Supplied photo courtesy of the N.C. Coastal Federation
Volunteers with Work on Wilmington spread mulch and lay sod at one of the stormwater reduction projects at Bradley Creek Elementary School on April 16, 2011.
Bradley Creek Elementary School’s campus has experienced the installation of six stormwater collection gardens. The gardens act as porous surfaces to catch the first 1.5 inches of rainfall that accumulates on the school’s parking lots, roofs and other paved surfaces. North Carolina Coastal Federation’s coastal education coordinator, Ted Wilgis, said it is important to catch the first 1.5 inches of stormwater — named the first flush — because the trash, debris, automotive liquids and pet waste that accumulates between rains are swept away by the first flush and flow into waterways like Hewlett’s Creek. Wilgis said Hewlett’s Creek has become a priority for the local government and environmental organizations because it is classified as an impaired waterway.
"[Bradley Creek Elementary] is right in the headwaters of the tributary to Hewlett’s Creek," Wilgis said. "The coastal federation, the city of Wilmington, the New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation and other organizations have Hewlett’s Creek as our priority creek to improve the water quality because it is the most urbanized watershed in the county."
The rain gardens at Bradley Creek Elementary, established in 2011, are one of the ways these local organizations are addressing the water quality in Hewlett’s Creek. Wilgis said the gardens are especially important because they help educate the students about the issues surrounding stormwater runoff.
"One of the biggest things we can do is prevent stormwater from getting into the creek; another big concern is linking our educational programs with that project," he said. "We work with the schools and the science coordinators in the county to make sure our activities are integrated well into the classroom and meet their core learning essentials."
Every third grade class at Bradley Creek Elementary is involved in stormwater environmental education programs that revolve around the rain gardens.
"We identify a list of native plants that we can use in the area and then we have kids come out and help us plant them and spread mulch. Once the project is done they, along with their teachers, parents and [the coastal federation] will maintain the gardens," Wilgis said. "It’s really exciting to work with the kids, to see their eyes light up when they are putting plants in the ground … making that connection with what they are learning and a sense of environmental stewardship."
What Wilgis and the teachers at Bradley Creek hope their students take away from these hands-on lessons is that they can have a positive impact on their local watersheds and can take the things they learn with the Hewlett’s Creek project home to their own watershed.
Funding for the rain gardens has come in large part from a $60,000 grant from the New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation, via the Community Conservation Assistance Program. Other sources of funding for the project that the NHCSWC grant did not cover came from other local organizations like the Landfall Foundation and the Cape Fear Garden Club.
"Support from the Landfall Foundation and the Cape Fear Garden Club, while not the biggest percentage of our funding, is very important because it is community and local support and that means a lot to us," Wilgis said.