Storm water runoff issues and Environmental Protection Agency regulations influenced the city's decision to construct rain gardens in various places around Athens.

Rain gardens are an environmentally friendly way to reduce storm water runoff and water pollutants by using aesthetically pleasing native plants.

Athens' water drainage systems are not defective, but there are factors specific to Athens that contribute to storm water runoff, said Andy Stone, director of City Engineering and Public Works.

Athens faces problems with storm water runoff because of the steep hills in the area, especially on the south side of the city, Stone said.

The water rushes downhill

and the sloping does not allow the water to stop for long enough to enter the storm drain said Teresa Caldwell, a representative from Athens Soil and Water District, which is heading the construction of the rain gardens in the area.

Caldwell also said the heavy presence of clay in the soil in Athens and low-lying areas along the riverbanks that flood too quickly to drain properly are other reasons for the poor drainage.

The clay in the ground makes it hard for water to percolate through and be absorbed by the soil, she said.

The amount of rain is not a factor in water drainage, Stone said.

The EPA has also set permit regulations to go into effect at the end of 2010 for Athens that encouraged the city to reduce water pollution in the area, Stone said.

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit controls water pollution by regulating sources of discharge pollutants into surface waters, according to the EPA Web site. Cities where storm water runoff flows directly into surface water will need to obtain a permit to ensure that pollutants are not entering the waters.

Storm water runoff increases the amount of pollutants entering surface waters because all of the water does not enter the water drainage systems to be treated, Stone said.

Possible sites for the rain gardens are behind the Community Center, the City Code Building and anywhere on West State Street, said Chair of City Council's Environmental Committee Elahu Gosney, D at-large.

The Athens Soil and Water Conservation District is applying for state money to finance the project, Gosney said.

The city does not know the cost of the project yet because it depends on how much funding the city is able to secure, he said.

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Alex Stuckey

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