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Rain garden: design, construction and maintenance recommendations based on a review of existing systems
N. Somes 1, M. Potter2, Joe Crosby1, M Pfitzner3 Ecodynamics, 2 Melbourne Water Corporation, 3 Kingston City Council,

In order to better understand factors that contribute to the successful implementation of street scale Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) assessments were undertaken at 22 sites across Melbourne. The sites use a variety of treatment methods with most using Raingardens. The review was undertaken in response to concerns regarding poor plant growth at a number of sites. The inspections found civil works and maintenance (weed and litter control) were generally undertaken well. Some issues identified with civil works include the use of inappropriate mulches and loss of extended detention storage due to overfilling of filters. Infiltration rates of filters were quantified via insitu and laboratory methods. Most sites tested had infiltration rates of less than 80 mm/h. Infiltration rates below design specifications results in reduced pollutant removal as systems bypass more frequently. Low hydraulic conductivity of the systems resulted from use of filter material or mulches containing fines which impeded flow. Surface clogging was not evident. Plant growth was variable with poor growth often linked to water logged soils due to soils with very low hydraulic conductivity. In response to these findings a revised specification for the design and implementation of rain garden filters was developed.

Introduction Since the early 1990s a number of activities have been undertaken to reduce the impact of urban stormwater on the environment in greater Melbourne. The water sensitive urban design (WSUD) measures implemented were at the regional scale and included wetlands and sedimentation basins. These treatments are often referred to as end of pipe treatments and typically treat large catchments (> 60 ha). By the late 1990s attention was also being focused on the use of treatment measures at the street scale. This approach avoided the need to construct regional scale systems by treating runoff at or near source. To date a large number of street scale systems have been constructed in new areas of development or retrofitted to existing urban areas. Common street scale treatment measures include swales, bioretention systems, infiltration systems and porous paving. Street scale systems are characterised by treating runoff by filtration through vegetation and infiltration through soil profiles. The most common form of street scale WSUD are bioretention systems, commonly referred to as raingardens. Street scale treatments face a number of design pressures not present in regional scale measures. Retrofitted systems have further limitations as they must be accommodated into existing streetscapes and deal with issues such as existing services and limited space. Figure 1 is a typical section of a raingarden showing the key elements and dominant flow paths. Raingardens treat runoff by storing catchment flows in the extended detention storage and allowing it to infiltrate through a series of layers. To ensure drainage function is maintained most systems have an overflow which operates when the storage capacity of the extended detention storage is exceeded. Background In 2006, Kingston City Council and the Better Bays and Waterways Project embarked on a joint venture to investigate the condition of 22 street scale WSUD devices across Melbourne and review design, construction, landscaping and maintenance practices. The sites had been

Ca tc Ru hme no nt ff
Kerb Extended Detention Zone

Overflow Batter

Overflow Infiltration Infiltration

Mulch Filter

Transition Drainage

Figure 1 Raingarden section designed and constructed in the past five years and most had been retrofitted into existing streetscapes. A variety of systems had been built, the majority being raingardens. Infiltration systems, swales and wetlands had also been constructed. The review was initiated due to concerns regarding plant growth in a number of systems. The study also provided an opportunity to inform local government of lessons learnt in implementing raingardens, in particular for retrofitted systems. The study was undertaken during winter of 2006. Site assessments included a review of available documentation, discussions with Council staff associated with individual projects and site inspections. The objective of the review was to define the current condition of each site compared to the design and the maintenance regime. Design Raingarden design is an area of ongoing development. The earliest projects reviewed were designed in 2002. At this point in time, design tools were in their infancy and limited to overseas guides and based on results of previous projects (Knox City Council, 2002). Melbourne Water produced the WSUD Engineering Procedures: Stormwater (Melbourne Water, 2005) and represented a significant step forward in the design resources available. The improvement in design resources was reflected in design practice. The sites were designed over a 5 year period and reflected the developments in design practice that occurred over that period. Many of the changes to design practice related to the aesthetics, maintainability and integration into the streetscape. In early systems, some designs did not differentiate the raingarden from the streetscape, with edges typically battered and planting areas adjoining grassed areas. These design decisions have resulted in ongoing maintenance issues, e.g. weed control is required around the raingardens to prevent grass entering the garden bed, in undertaking these works overspray with herbicide has killed both grass and the raingarden plants. To overcome this, recent designs have included provisions of features such as concrete edge strips to delineate gardens and assist maintenance. Other developments are the use of steps and retaining walls rather than batters to reduce the area required to take up changes in grade. Further improvements can be made in design practice as new design models are pursued to incorporate raingardens into items such as street furniture, traffic calming devices and street trees. The design process should also include streetscape design and community engagement to increase the rate of stakeholder buy in. Stakeholder involvement is discussed later in this paper in relation to its ability to reduce maintenance costs.

3 Project Implementation The findings of the review of sites are summarised in Figure 2, which outlines the number of systems which were rated good, moderate or poor across five functional characteristics (Kingston City council et al, 2007). The selected characters represent the key elements of street scale WSUD elements. It should be noted that the infiltration rate data set was based on results from 12 sites, while other categories were based on results from all 22 sites. The results are discussed in detail in the following sections.
100% 90% 80% Proportion of Sites (%) 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Civil Works Plant Condition Infiltration Rate Weeds Litter Good Moderate Poor

Figure 2 Summary of site investigation findings Civil Works Civil works are the hard works required to construct raingardens, e.g. concrete paving and drainage works. The results indicate that civil works were generally well constructed. The cases of moderate civil construction were related to surface grading of the raingarden not being in accordance with the design and reducing the extended detention depth. Another issue identified with civil construction was the selection of gravel mulches that contained fines, which formed a compacted and relatively impermeable crust over the surface of the raingarden. Other issues included bypass inlets set at wrong heights and inlet structures which restricted flow or were prone to blockage. The good rating for civil works is not surprising, as all of the works were constructed by civil construction firms with experience in the construction of hard works. Errors were often associated with departures from standard engineering practice. For example, it is common practice to fill around pits and back up kerbs. This had occurred in several raingardens and resulted in the loss of the extended detention storage area, which will significantly reduce the effectiveness of the systems. From discussions with Council staff it was concluded that these sorts of errors reflected a lack of understanding on behalf of the contractor and Council supervisors of the intended function of the systems. Appropriate supervision and knowledge transfer is essential to ensure construction projects are built to reflect the design. In most of the projects reviewed, implementation of the works was supervised by Council Officers, whose background was in the supervision of civil works. Typically officers had not been provided with additional training regarding the design and implementation of WSUD works. Their experience is reflected in the works, in nearly all cases the civil works are constructed to a high standard. However, the landscape works, in particular filters, have been implemented poorly, with few of the raingardens installed as per the design. In most cases the poor implementation has been a result of the specification being partially adopted or incorrectly adopted. It is considered that appropriate training is needed to

4 provide supervisors with the knowledge to ensure works are constructed to design specifications. At a minimum the following areas of the works should be checked or confirmed as works proceed: Connections to drainage system, including sub-surface drains, inlets and overflows; Levels of inlet, overflow pit, and extended detention area base (top of mulch layer); All materials used in the construction comply with the specification, in particular hydraulic conductivities and grading; Placement of the filter to design levels; and That any amelioration to filter material has been undertaken in accordance with the recommendations; Plant Selection and Health A wide variety of plant species had been used in projects reviewed. Plants used included trees, shrubs, tussocks and ground covers. Where filters had been implemented correctly, all species of plants grew well. Poor plant growth was typically associated with poor filter function or water logged soils. In this regard terrestrial plants, e.g. Dianella species, were found to offer an advantage as they demonstrated poor growth if the filter had low infiltration rates (refer to Figure 3). The poor growth prompted managers to investigate reasons for the poor growth, which subsequently led to filter function being identified as being of concern. Where semi-aquatic plants (e.g. Ficinea nodosa or Juncus species) were used in filters with low infiltration rates, the plants grew well and the poor filter function was not identified through plant health. It is considered that the use of some plants which prefer well drained conditions is preferable, as they will indicate poor filter function. It is considered that a wider variety of plants than has been used to date are suitable for raingardens. It is recommended that designers expand their plant palettes to include plants that are not normally associated with raingardens. Good plant cover was achieved best where groundcovers were included in the plant palette. Filter Specification and Implementation To understand filter function better, samples from filters exhibiting poor plant growth and good plant growth were analysed at the outset of the study to determine horticultural and drainage properties and compare these to design values. Soil fertility was found to be adequate at both sites, with plant growth not limited by it. Drainage rates were quantified via hydraulic conductivity tests (AS4419, 2003) and were found to be low compared to design values. The designs specified hydraulic conductivities in the range of 80 180 mm/h. Samples from the sites were found top have hydraulic conductivities of less than 5 mm/h.. At these sites many of the plants were showing signs of being too wet and soils were water logged. To better understand filter function across a wide range of sites, 44 in situ infiltration tests were undertaken at 12 sites. Beds were selected to provide a cross section of plant growth, i.e. poor to good, and in some cases multiple infiltration tests were conducted in the same raingarden. As a result of the sites not being randomly selected and multiple tests in a number of beds the results should not be considered definitive. However, they provide a useful insight into filter function across the sites and are considered representative of all the sites investigated.

Figure 3 Example of good and poor growth at adjacent raingardens planted with Dianella tasmanica. The hydraulic conductivity of the right hand site was two orders of magnitude lower than the left hand site. The in-situ test method used a steel collar (Figure 4) that was driven into the filter profile to the drainage layer (Figure 5). A constant head was maintained within the steel tube and topped up on a regular basis, with the timing and volumes of additions recorded. The tests were conducted by Land and Water Constructions and the Facility for Advancing Water Biofiltration (FAWB) with results pooled. Please note, the results are described as infiltration rates not saturated hydraulic conductivities. This description has been adopted as test conditions could not be controlled as they are in the laboratory tests which comply with AS4419.

Figure 4

Infiltration tube

Figure 5

Infiltration tube installed in a raingarden

The results of the infiltration tests are summarised in Figure 6 and show that more than half the tests indicated infiltration rates below 40 mm/h. These results indicate that many raingardens are not functioning appropriately and will therefore be bypassing some design flows. An assessment of the impact of reducing infiltration rates was made using MUSIC V3. A simple model of a raingarden was developed and run with a range of infiltration rates, with the results summarised in Figure 7. Figure 7 shows that optimal treatment is achieved at infiltration rates between 150 and 250 mm/h. Large reductions in removal efficiency occur when the infiltration rate drops below 100 mm/h, due to the increased rate of bypass. The results suggest that many of the raingardens reviewed would have the design pollutant removal effectiveness reduced by 10 to 15% due to their low infiltration rates.


50 Annual Nitrogen Load Reduction (%

<40 40 - 80 80 - 180 >180

Infiltration tests (number)








0 Infiltration rate (mm/h)

25 0 100 200 300 400 500 Infiltration Rate (mm/h)

Figure 6 Summary of in situ infiltration rates measured

Figure 7 Effect of altering hydraulic conductivity on raingarden performance

Filters were frequently specified in the following manner: A material description e.g. sandy loam; A desired hydraulic conductivity, typically in the range of 80 to 180 mm/h; and In some cases, a grading was provided.

In many cases the specifications were in conflict or were contradictory. The description of soils, e.g. sandy loam, includes a relatively wide grading range and can contain up to 20% of clay material (AS 4419-2003 Table I1). This proportion of clay material is considered to be too high to maintain the required hydraulic conductivity. The term sandy loam is also widely used within the landscape supply industry to indicate a soil with sandy characteristics. Sandy loams have highly variable gradings and properties reflecting the variety of sources and minimal processing that the soils undergo. Many of the filters reviewed had been constructed with topsoil and had low infiltration rates. The widespread use of topsoil within filters is thought to be due to ambiguous specification and a lack of experience on behalf of supervisory and construction contractors. In light of these findings a new specification was developed for raingarden filters. The specification is based on Recommendations for the Establishment of Putting Greens (USGA, 2004) and the experience of the authors in the construction of landscape systems. The objective is the provision of a specification that is robust and can be readily implemented. It is acknowledged that it may appear overly prescriptive, but the experience of the review of existing systems has demonstrated that a greater degree of prescription is required to achieve appropriate outcomes. The specification is contained in the project report available on line from Melbourne Waters website. ( The raingarden specification provides guidance on the following layers: Mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture within the underlying filter media; Filter soil layer which acts as a pollutant filter and supports plant growth; Transition Layer layer to separate filter layer from the drainage layer to avoid clogging of drainage pipe; and Drainage Layer relatively free draining layer containing perforated drainage pipe.

Departures from current specifications (Melbourne Water, 2005, FAWB, 2006, Fletcher et al, 2006) include the recommendation of mulch in all systems and the use of washed sand as the preferred filter material. Stone mulch is recommended to improve plant growth by

7 suppressing weed growth and maintaining soil moisture. Timber mulches or jute mat are not recommended as they are not long lasting and not practical for regularly inundated systems. Suitable stone mulches are sized 4 to 13 mm, screened and applied in a 40 - 75 mm layer. Selection of mulch materials is based largely on aesthetic requirements, with a wide variety of stone sources available. The filter layer is the critical layer in determining the operation of the system and therefore the greatest care must be taken in sourcing the appropriate materials. In recognition that the materials need to be controlled, the approach outlined in the specification recommends the use of a washed sand product. This approach has been adopted to limit the amount of fines that will be present. The major determinant of suitability is the hydraulic conductivity of the material which should be in the range of 100 300 mm/h. As the filter is a washed product it will not support plant growth and will require amelioration with a range of organic and inorganic fertilizers and trace elements. These materials are added as a one off addition during construction. The total nutrient load of this addition is equivalent to the annual nutrient load (N and P) captured within the filter. Subsequent nutrient additions are not usually required and are provided by stormwater runoff. The transition layer and drainage layer have similar specifications to existing guidelines and are not discussed here in detail. Experience with the supply of materials to the projects reviewed and subsequent projects indicates that supply of materials is not a simple task. When sourcing materials, a quality control program must be implemented that test materials prior to and following delivery. For large scale projects this requires prospective materials to be stockpiled at their source and tested prior to delivery. Follow up tests of materials delivered to site should also be undertaken to ensure material properties do not vary throughout the delivery process. Maintenance Maintenance is considered to include management of the following: Aesthetics management of litter and sediment; Horticultural weed control, replanting and re-mulching; Damage repair of accidental damage and vandalism; and Inspections regular inspections of systems to ensure it is functioning.

The review of existing systems found that aesthetic and horticultural maintenance was generally done well. Weeds were only a problem where maintenance responsibility at council had not been identified. Litter load generally reflected the surrounding areas, with inner city areas typically having higher litter loads. As part of the project an attempt to quantify the maintenance cost of raingardens was made. The results varied markedly with many Councils not being albe to identify a maintenance cost. Where costs were identified they ranged between $3.80 and $20 per square metre of raingarden per annum for planted systems. The costs were considered to reflect the maintenance cost of any landscape at that location, not the specific cost of maintaining a raingarden. This finding is reflective of most of the maintenance cost being associated with site visits for aesthetic purposes. For example a high profile park location will require a visit each week to ensure litter is managed. Cost effective maintenance is aided by effectively constructed systems with good plant cover and edge delineation. Regular maintenance activity coordinated with maintenance of other public landscapes also reduces costs.

8 Conclusions The review of 22 street scale WSUD sites found that whilst design practice had improved significantly over the past 5 years and implementation was generally well done, opportunities for improvement still existed. The key areas for improvement are in the specification and implementation of filters. To date many of the filters constructed have been constructed with topsoil as the filter media. These materials contain too high a proportion of fines therefore impeding infiltration. The reduced hydraulic conductivity significantly reduces the pollutant removal effectiveness. To overcome these issues it is recommended that a revised specification be adopted and that greater attention be given to supervision of the works. Other key findings were: Civil works are generally well constructed; A wide range of vegetation types and species are suitable; and Maintenance costs for raingardens should be considered to be of similar magnitude to adjacent landscapes.

Acknowledgements The project used as a basis for this paper was conceived and funded by the City of Kingston and the Better Bays and Waterways - Institutionalising Water Sensitive Urban Design and Best Management Practice in Greater Melbourne Project which is supported with funding through the Australian Government Coastal Catchment Initiative. Fieldwork to quantify hydraulic conductivity was undertaken in partnership with the Facility for Advancing Water Biofiltration. References FAWB (Facility for Advancing Water Biofiltration). 2006. Guideline Specifications for Soil Media in Bioretention Systems. Fletcher, T., Wong, T. and Breen, P. 2006. Buffer Strips, Vegetated Swales and Bioretention Systems Chapter 10 in Australian Runoff Quality A Guide to Water Sensitive Urban Design. Engineers Australia. Kingston City Council and Better Bays and Waterways, 2007, Review of Street Scale WSUD in Melbourne, Technical Report Prepared by Land and Water Constructions, available at ( Knox City Council, 2002, Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) Implementation Guidelines, Technical Guidelines published by Knox City Council, available at, April 2002. Melbourne Water, 2005. WSUD Engineering Procedures: Stormwater. CSIRO Publishing. Melbourne. Standards Australia, (2003), AS4419 Soils for landscaping and garden uses, Standards Australia International, Sydney. USGA, 2004, USGA recommendations for a method of putting green construction, United States Golf Association Green Section Staff, 11 pages, sourced from