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Curbing urban runoff in Gold Hill

GOLD HILL — Molly Bradley is trying to save the Rogue River one rain garden at a time, and she's got one year to do it.

Bradley is Gold Hill's new water-quality improvement coordinator charged with reducing the city's stormwater runoff and all the petroleum, nitrogen and other pollutants that find their way into the Rogue from the city's impervious surfaces such as roads and rooftops.

By encouraging residents to add rain barrels to capture rooftop rain, beefed-up riparian zones fortify the riverside and create these rain gardens where runoff is given the chance to soak into the ground for natural filtration by plants such as black cottonwoods, ferns and willows.

That's exactly what a demonstration rain garden is doing at the Gold Hill Sports Park, where an often overlooked patch of dirt, plants and rocks next to the parking lot allows water from as far away as Highway 234 to trickle into the ground instead of over it.

"It takes all that water and funnels it away from the river," Bradley says. "It reduces the runoff a ton."

This so-called "non-point source" pollution is a focus of a state Department of Environmental Quality program that is trying to help cities such as Gold Hill grapple with the kind of surface-water problems more associated with urban areas.

Having people such as Bradley create rain gardens and help some of the city's 1,220 residents do the same around sewers and other points where runoff makes its way into the Rogue incrementally helps improve the river, which is both a drinking water source and a wastewater conduit.

"It's really progressive on the part of Gold Hill," says Bill Meyers, the DEQ's Rogue Basin coordinator. "It's really ambitious and it's attainable. You do what you can and take the benefits you get."

Every year, the DEQ offers grants targeting what its considers to be cost-effective projects that will result in meaningful environmental benefits to waterways, Meyers says.

Bradley comes to Gold Hill through AmeriCorps, with the nearly $50,000 in grants for the one-year job coming from a host of sources, including DEQ's section 319 Grants Program, the city of Gold Hill, the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District and the federal RARE program (Resource Assistance for Rural Environments).

It continues similar work done by a college student in Gold Hill last year, Meyers says.

Some of Bradley's tasks have included ensuring city codes make it easy for residents to replace hard surfaces such as concrete with pervious stones that let water in.

"You want more percolation than runoff," Meyers says.

She is also conducting workshops and other outreach events and is helping Hanby Middle School students create a rain garden of their own to curb the amount of runoff to the Rogue generated on school grounds.

They identified a sloping dirt walkway off the school's field as a natural funnel location for school ground runoff, which flows down the path and into a storm drain that flows directly to the Rogue.

Plans are to replace hard-packed gravel with pervious stones and dig a hole where the runoff will be captured and given a chance to percolate into the ground. What the small pond doesn't capture will instead be filtered by native plants before it ever reaches the drain.

Hanby kids not only have helped design the project, but they will do fundraising and get their hands dirty when it gets built next spring, Bradley says.

"There are just so many opportunities here," she says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

A grant has allowed water quality expert Molly Bradley to help Gold Hill residents clean up what they put into the Rogue River. Mail Tribune / Mark Freeman