Jim Pierce, Assistant Public Works Director, Addison, TX, asks, "What is a rain garden?"

A "rain garden" is a man-made depression in the group that is used as a landscape tool to improve water quality. The rain garden forms a "bioretention area" by collecting water runoff and storing it, permitting it to be filtered and slowly absorbed by the soil. The bioretention concept is based on the hydrologic function of forest habitat, in which the forest produces a spongy litter layer that soaks up water and allows it to slowly penetrate the soil layer. The site for the rain garden should be placed strategically to intercept water runoff.

A nutrient removal or filtering process takes place as the water comes in contact with the soil and the roots of the trees, shrubs and vegetation. This process accounts for the improved water quality. The first flush of rain water is ponded in the depression of the rain garden, and contains the highest concentration of materials washed off impervious surfaces such as roofs, roads, and parking lots.

Rain gardens are suitable for any land use situation, residential, commercial and industrial. It should be placed so that impervious surfaces will drain into the depression area. Its purpose is to minimize the volume and improve the quality of water entering conventional storm drains and nearby streams.

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"Our agency is in dire need of passing a bond issue for major stormwater improvements. We've just begun talking about the matter in public but we're being met with some resistance and don't know how to overcome that. Can you offer any suggestions?"

The old adage, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink" often holds true when trying to inform community residents of the need to pass bond issues for whatever infrastructure need. Of course, the horse will drink if he realizes he's thirsty and voters are just as realistic. Begin by assessing the level of readiness of your voters. Do they even know what the improvement is, much less the need for it or why it must be upgraded?

Ruth W. Edwards, Director, Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research, Colorado State University, has developed The Community Readiness Model to help you "do your homework." The model is simple, intuitive and can be used by individuals and groups across the country to assess their community's readiness to support a wide range of community issues. You can obtain a free electronic copy of a manual, "Community Readiness—The Key to Successful Change" at Be prepared to do your homework because people won't buy what they don't believe they need!

"I just heard a report that Ford and General Motors are going to discontinue production of cars and trucks that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) or propane. This is really going to cause problems from us in Arizona as we try to meet the clean air mandates. Any more information available?"

Just about the time you think you've figured out the answers, they change the questions! What you heard is correct. Both Ford and GM, the two major suppliers of cars and trucks that run on CNG or propane, will discontinue their production after the 2004 model year to focus on gas/electric hybrid vehicles and hydrogen-fuel research. Government fleets, many of which are required by federal law to buy alternative-fuel vehicles, and about 75 percent of government fleets in urban areas that run on clean-burning fuel, may be forced to violate clean air standards, although there are no penalties for non-compliance. Cities and agencies that use natural-gas or propane vehicles can continue using them as long as they run, but after the vehicles are retired, there will be no replacements available.

Ford has stated they believe the best long-term solution is pure hydrogen from renewable sources and have introduced the first gas/electric hybrid vehicle to be built by a domestic brand, based on the popular Escape compact SUV. Public acceptance of natural-gas vehicles has been limited, even among dedicated environmentalists, mainly because of the limited sources for refueling vehicles. The recent boon in hybrids and upcoming clean-diesel initiatives also have pushed back natural gas and propane. For more information, you might contact your local Ford agency or a member of the APWA Fleet Services Committee (their names and contact information can be found at

"What big changes have been made in the 5th Edition of the Public Works Management Practices Manual?"

"Two new chapters have been added with this edition—one on Vector Control and one for Municipal Airports. Some new practices have been included which reflect Homeland Security issues with the addition of Vulnerability Assessments for both Water and Wastewater Plants. Some chapters have been streamlined with redundant practices removed. All in all, it's still the best product you'll find for assessing the management and operations of your department. Order it now at

Ask Ann...

Questions are welcome.

Please address all inquiries to:

Ann Daniels
Director of Technical Services
APWA, 2345 Grand Blvd.
Suite 500
Kansas City, MO 64108-2625
Fax questions to (816) 472-0405