My name is Mary. I’m an aging person with an aging house. I’m going to tell the story of transforming my house from something I don’t want into something I do...

Since the first of this year, Arlington has a new requirement for home builders: Either A: Take measures to control runoff from roofs and pavement or B: Pay a fee. I don’t like paying fees and, besides, I am upset by the amount of debris and volume of water that erodes the stream beds on its torrential way to the Potomac after a big storm. So I’m going along with plan A.

I decided to calculate how many gallons of runoff would be produced by my property in the occasional six-inch downpour. I’ll have about 1,425 square feet of roof, which will generate 712.5 cubic feet of water. There are about 7.5 gallons of water in a cubic foot, so the runoff would amount to about 5,343.75 gallons of water. Even smaller storms can produce enough runoff to overwhelm the storm sewers and the streams.

I grew up with cisterns for water. Rats periodically died in there trying to get a drink, so we filtered and boiled the water before drinking it. But even then, it had a foul taste. We were so frugal with our water, we were admonished only to flush after “major occasions,” which, after a sip or two of our cistern water, happened very frequently.

Still, I am committed to the idea of cisterns, if not for drinking water, at least for irrigation. I’d like to have one of those at the downhill side of each of the two main gutters. They’ll be a major contribution to my garden, as well as a way to reduce the runoff that gushes into the small stream downhill.


(Mary McCutcheon/Jack Scheele talks with Ed Gill.)

A rain garden should ideally have very well-drained soil that extends as deep as possible. It acts like a sponge when a lot of water is funneled into it. Rain gardens do not take care of the torrents, but at least they help a little bit. Christin Jolicoeur is Arlington County’s authority on rain gardens and she can be a resource for anyone wanting to build one. People can visit either the Arlington County or the Northern Virginia Regional Commission Web site to find out what rain gardens are all about and what resources and incentives there might be to develop a good rain garden.


Jamie Marcey (Mary McCutcheon)

I asked him whether he knew anything about a rain garden and he took me instead to his own personal project: a system of vernal pools.


(Mary McCutcheon)

(Mary McCutcheon)

My guide was Jamie Marcey, a Yorktown senior working toward his Eagle Scout rank. He has been working on this project all spring and tending to his vernal pools while monitoring the multitude of amphibian life that have taken up residence in them.

My quest for an example of a rain garden may have failed, but I struck a gold mine of other ideas for the area beyond my property line where the land descends into a ravine.


(Mary McCutcheon)

The downside might be mosquito breeding, but, as Jamie pointed out, the frogs and salamanders will consume huge amounts of mosquito larvae.

So now I’m waiting for Arlington’s environmental services department to look at Jack Sheele’s plan and finally give us the demolition permit.

Previously: Struggles with the gas company

Why tear it down?

Heating and air conditioning

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