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South Jersey Landscape Makeover Program

The goal of this program is to prevent polluted stormwater from entering waterways that drain into the Delaware River.

November 20, 2019


Led by a coalition of eight environmental non-profits, the South Jersey Landscape Makeover Program has worked with homeowners, farmers, and municipalities since 2017 to design and install rain gardens and other green infrastructure projects covering more than 34,040 square feet that will prevent more than 443,000 gallons of polluted stormwater from reaching our waterways. 

PPA is the program leader for this project. Engineers and landscape architects from the Rutgers Water Resources Cooperative Extension Program design these projects. Typically they capture stormwater runoff from a roof or a parking lot, and we use native species when planting them. The goal is to prevent polluted stormwater from entering waterways that drain into the Delaware River.

Made possible by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the William Penn Foundation, the South Jersey Landscape Makeover Program distributed more than $67,000 in rebates and planted more than 5,000 native plants. The Program provides interested homeowners a free rain garden design and up to a $450 rebate to those who are eligible. To date, the team conducted nine educational sessions educating 204 people. 

rain garden at hammonton high school
Students add plants to a rain garden at Hammonton High School.

Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) can include bioswales, rain barrels, permeable pavement, and rain gardens, amongst other solutions. The Landscape Makeover Program deals mainly in rain gardens. Rain gardens are shallowly depressed gardens that collect runoff from an impervious surface. We plant native perennials with long root systems in the gardens to infiltrate stormwater into the soil and fight soil compaction. By acting as a sponge, rain gardens decrease flooding, stop the spread of nonpoint source pollution, and recharge the aquifer. The native flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees in the garden also create habitat for native species (a rain garden can double as a pollinator garden!).

Compare this to traditional stormwater management, which includes detention and retention basins, culverts and swales, or storm drains and pipes, and even the archaic and problematic combined sewers.  They are designed to get water to the lowest point in the quickest way, but do little to prevent flooding or surface water pollution.  More often than not, stormwater ends up in our waterways, carrying all sorts of pollution with it. Remember reading about those Harmful Algal Blooms this summer? Pollution carried by runoff in traditional “gray” stormwater infrastructure contributes to those.

Our projects for 2019 kicked off in May with the installation of two rain gardens at Hammonton High School. These gardens, built on either side of the school entrance, capture runoff from the school’s roof. The community came together to complete this project. With the help of about thirty high school seniors, a group of seventh graders from Hammonton Middle School, and several volunteers from the Hammonton Green Committee, the team got over 600 plants into the ground and completed the mulching in one day. Between the community involvement and its high profile location at the front entrance of the high school, this project helps to open up discussion about better stormwater management and reducing the pollutants that we put onto the ground, such as fertilizer and pesticide.

In June, we built two more rain gardens.  In Marlton Lakes, Evesham Township, volunteers from the Evesham Green Committee and interns from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program helped with the installations. This is a lakeside community provided the perfect opportunity to show the connection between green stormwater infrastructure and improved water quality.

September found us building another rain garden at Rice Elementary School in Evesham. Over 100 students from the elementary school helped with the planting. Seeing students help with the planting is one of the best parts. We know that a rain garden benefits the environment, but when a student gets to take part in a project like this, it gives them something to take pride in and feel a connection to.  I hope that it can foster their interest in nature.

We have one more GSI project to install before the year is done, and it will be our biggest project yet.   At the Hammonton Early Childhood Education Center, we will be turning an existing detention basin (just under an acre!) into a native meadow. We will partner with the South Jersey Resource Conservation and Development Council – Team Habitat to spread seeds after vegetation has been removed.  Of course, students will help to do some planting, too. With such a large area, we can include a wide variety of beautiful native species–dogwoods, beebalm, wild bergamot, asters, milkweed and goldenrod, just to name a few. As I’m writing this, the project isn’t in the ground yet, but my hopes are high for how this garden will look in its first season of flowering!

Homeowners have also been hard at work. Our partners at Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program designed our projects throughout the program. They also educated homeowners about rain gardens and created dozens of designs for home rain gardens. Across South Jersey, homeowners have been installing these rain gardens as part of the Landscape Makeover Program.

The Landscape Makeover Program wrapped up for the year in October.  We are excited to see what the future holds for green stormwater infrastructure. A huge thank you to all those who have participated in the program and made it a success!

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