Green Infrastructure on Fire Island

There is a new approach towards managing stormwater that is increasing in popularity and is being more widely deployed in our cities and communities: green infrastructure. According to various regulations, "green infrastructure" is defined as the range of measures that reduce stormwater flows to sewer systems or to various bodies of water. As one can imagine, this is particularly important on Fire Island, where water surrounds us and is such an important part of our ecosystem.

As rainwater falls in undeveloped areas, it is absorbed and filtered by soil and plants. In developed areas, the water cannot soak into the ground in this manner. Consequently, rainwater must be handled through a combination of storm drains, drainage pipes, and water treatment systems that we are all familiar with.  Green infrastructure endeavors to use various environmentally friendly measures to reduce and treat stormwater flow in place, and in a more natural way.

There are any number of things that constitute green infrastructure, but those that are most appropriate for Fire Island residents are: rainwater harvesting, rain gardens, and planter boxes; permeable pavements may also be appropriate in certain circumstances, such as community common areas. In this newsletter, we describe two of these topics:  rainwater harvesting and rain gardens.

Why bother taking these kinds of actions in our small community?  Among other things, these green infrastructure ideas have been shown to improve habitat and water quality, provide flood protection, prevent erosion, and save water.   Bottom Line: with green infrastructure, it is possible for each of us in Ocean Beach to help preserve our precious aquifer and improve our resilience as we battle climate change.

Plant A Rain Garden
This time of year we are all longing for the beach and planning for spring time return.  If your planning this year includes changes to your landscape, consider a rain garden.  A rain garden is a shallow planted depression designed to hold water until it soaks into the soil.  Rain gardens are an important solution to storm water runoff problems.

Design Tips
  • Think of a rain garden just like a border or foundation planting rather than a beloved specimen tree. 
  • Rain gardens are ideally located in an area where rainwater runoff naturally occurs and can be easily collected. This may be near the house where downspouts capture roof runoff or out in the landscape where water from the roof, lawn and other impervious surfaces can be captured. 
  • Rain gardens can be dug with standard garden tools. Regardless of the depth, the goal is to keep the bottom of the garden level. A low berm should be created around the downhill sides of the garden to contain the water.
  • Pick a shape that works with the rest of your garden design. A rain garden does not need a specific shape to function properly.  However, because you want the water to be absorbed before it runs off, a good rule of thumb is that the rain garden should be about twice as long as it is wide.
  • A rain garden can be as formal or as natural as you like.  Native plants work best, and seedlings are easier to establish than seeds when you are going to make a rain garden so you don't have to worry about the seeds washing away. Also try to use native grasses, sedges, and rushes in at least one-third to one-half of the rain garden. Those plants possess extremely deep root systems.
  • A rain garden is comprised of three wetness zones. In the lowest zone, plant species should be selected that can tolerate short periods of standing water as well as fluctuating water levels and dry conditions. In the middle zone, vegetation will need to tolerate both wet and dry conditions. In the upper zone, along the outer edges of the berm, plants should be selected that prefer dryer conditions.
  • A rain garden doesn’t have to be separate from other plantings. Consider making a depression within a perennial bed or shrub border (especially if space is tight and you don’t have room for a larger rain garden that stands alone).
  • In the first year, mulch with shredded hardwood mulch or seaweed (not pine bark or wood chips, which will float away), weed regularly and dig a notch into the berm – see the diagram above for a depiction of an appropriate berm -- on the low side to allow about half the water to flow out for the first year. This will help support young plants that can't handle a large volume of water.
There are many examples of rain garden design available. Take a look at the following sites for some ideas:
Fine Gardening
Family Handyman
Planet Natural

Rain Barrels 

Because of climate change, we are having an increasing number of flooding events in Ocean Beach. And with the recent installation of water meters, you may be wondering how to painlessly decrease your water usage. Given that a lot of household water use in the summer goes to gardens and landscaping, rain barrels may be the answer. Rainwater capture is an old idea with a new following.

There are size options (typically between 50- and 80-gallon barrels) on the market that are reasonably priced (less than $100). You simply attach it to your modified downspout, and let nature and gravity do the rest. Most barrels come with a cover to protect from mosquito breading. Each has a spigot at the bottom that allows you to attach a garden hose. Again, gravity plays a role in moving the water from the barrel to your garden. Rainwater is sometimes purer, often being softer and containing no added minerals or treatment chemicals that may be present in potable water supplies. One caveat however: because the water picks up roof tile debris and bird excrement on its way into the barrel, watering anything for human consumption (veggies, fruits, and herbs) is strongly discouraged.

So, if you have the space and inclination, think about getting your own water barrel next season. Your garden will thank you. Your wallet will thank you. Mother Earth will thank you. And your trees and flowers will thrive!

This rain barrel is for sale on amazon right now at this link. It can be delivered to the freight house in Bayshore and picked up at the freight house in Ocean Beach.
To learn more about stormwater management check out this event hosted by Save the Great South Bay tomorrow at 10:00 am EST !

Beach Clean-Up on September 19th, 2020

Thanks to all 170 participants from Oakleyville to Robbins Rest who took part in VOBEC's International Coastal Clean-up Day, which continues to grow every year. Once again, the number of volunteers went up but, perhaps due to the awareness of keeping our beaches clean, the trash numbers went down: 3,999 pieces of trash this year versus 7,677 in 2019.

Unfortunately, plastics were the most collected item once again, accounting for
49% of all trash but down from 53% in 2019.

Last year 1,065 cigarette butts were found as compared to 461 this year, and
plastic bottle caps went down from 970 to 377.

As we see the raw numbers come down (which is very encouraging), we must continue to build awareness each and every day in order to drastically decrease these numbers to save our beaches, oceans, and the planet.

Lastly, we may be organizing an additional beach clean-up in May, in conjunction with the Fire Island National Seashore. Stay tuned for further information. We look forward to seeing you in 2021!


The Village of Ocean Beach Environmental Commission (VOBEC) is a Mayoral-appointed advisory group dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the quality of the natural and man-made environment within the Village of Ocean Beach.

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Village of Ocean Beach Environmental Committee · PO Box 457 · Ocean Beach, NY 11770-0457 · USA

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