Planning to Dig a Swale

In my post about water in our basement, I mentioned all the rain we received this past winter and spring. Now, almost July, we are still receiving a significant amount of rain. According to Channel 3000, “southern Wisconsin is roughly 10 inches above the average for precipitation [this year], making it one of the wettest years on record so far.”

This past Wednesday morning, I had just published posts related to some initial steps we took to remediate our basement water issue, when what did I find in our basement again? Water.

We had hoped that our basement problems earlier this year were related to the frozen ground and lack of vegetation. Surely, the growing trees and perennials next to the house would drink up the water in the summertime. We had just dug the window wells deeper and removed the landscape timbers to improve drainage. But we had the same problems as before: a deep pond along the south corner of the house and water pouring in below two of our basement windows.

Water gathers on the southwest side of our house during heavy rainfall and then enters our basement.

Water gathers on the southwest side of our house during heavy rainfall and then enters our basement.

We decided to speed up our water in the basement project. I placed a call to Digger’s Hotline with plans to dig a swale this weekend to move some water away from the house.

The south corner of our house is a low area, not only on our property but also compared to our neighbors’ properties. Our house is built lower than our neighbors’ homes so regrading is limited by the height of our siding and the height of the neighbor’s yards. I’m a big fan of wetlands, but when one unexpected forms right next to my house and then invites itself in, it’s difficult for me to click ‘like’ on that. There isn’t room to slide the wetland away from the house. What we do have room for is a narrow swale, catching the water falling from both our property and the surrounding area and channeling it along our lot line away from our house.

Unfortunately, a swale along the lot line means that some of this water will probably end up in the street and sewers. This is sad. Rainwater is a mostly clean source of free water for us all. When it goes to the sewage treatment plant, it wastes energy as it becomes mixed with chemicals. We don’t yet have a rain barrel, but even a rain barrel (at only 50 gallons) would only hold a small percent of the water that pools up by our house. Water containers can be purchased at 250 gallons, but at over $250, they are expensive.

Another problem with water rolling onto the street is flooding. The corner by our house receives a rush of water from the two intersecting streets (and other properties). During heavy rains, the street by our house fills with puddles that reach to the elevated center of the road. Cars zig-zag around the deep water during these flash floods. The sidewalk also becomes one huge puddle. Among our neighborhood, our problem isn’t unique.

Rain gardens would be a good long-term solution for many of us neighbors to implement on our properties. Of course, a rain garden isn’t a quick project. We need to do some research and invest money into plants suitable for rain gardens. For now, we just have a shovel and a little time to dig those swales. But with more education and cheap access to rain garden plants, we could wisely sink the rainwater into the ground.

I was disappointed when I called the City of Madison Water Utility this year and asked about the Terrace Rain Garden Program. The person I talked to seemed to think that this program wasn’t worth the high cost. Perhaps I need to talk to someone else, because I think our property would be a good candidate for this project (if we could only ensure that the water doesn’t overflow into our basement).

In the meantime, we need to get the water away from our basement so that large-scale damage is not caused on our home. Then, once we have a swale, perhaps we could implement rain gardens at multiple points along the swale to absorb the water. To read about the swale we dug, check out Digging a Swale.


One thought on “Planning to Dig a Swale

  1. Pingback: Digging a Swale | SimpliCitySoil

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