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PDE, Rutgers Create Rain Garden at Salem High School



Salem Rain Garden 1

Salem Rain Garden 1: Kate Hutelmyer, collaborative programs manager for Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, tamps down sand and soil during construction of a rain garden in front of Salem High School in Salem, New Jersey. 

Salem Rain Garden 2: Left to right, Salem High School Science Teacher Theresa Derham; Sarah Bouboulis, habitat projects coordinator for Partnership for the Delaware Estuary; and Salem High School Science Teacher Paul Bartholomew mix sand and soil for the new rain garden at Salem High School in Salem, New Jersey.

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Salem Rain Garden 2.5: A member of the Rutgers University Water Resources Program helps install native plants in the new rain garden in front of Salem High School in Salem, New Jersey.


SALEM, NJ — New landscaping with a unique purpose greeted students and teachers at Salem High School as they returned for the fall semester.

The pretty plants are not ordinary landscaping, however. They’re part of a rain garden, a shallow basin created to collect stormwater from roofs, parking lots, or other hard surfaces. This kind of garden is designed to allow rainwater to soak into the ground rather than rushing directly into nearby waterways like the Salem River. A combination of sandy soils and water-loving plants helps to remove pollutants by filtering the rainwater as it percolates into the ground. Water that soaks into the Salem High School rain garden will help recharge the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, a source of drinking water to about one million people in southern New Jersey. The plants used are native to the region and therefore are adapted to the climate and support pollinators and other wildlife.

Salem Rain Garden 2.5

This endeavor came about as part of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s (PDE) work with the South Jersey Landscape Makeover Project, a collaborative effort between regional environmental nonprofits funded by the William Penn Foundation. The focus of this initiative is to bring green stormwater techniques to homeowners, municipalities, and school districts throughout South Jersey. PDE and Rutgers University’s Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program engineered and installed the rain garden at Salem High School in late August, with help from teachers at the school.


“A big part of what we do is try to empower local groups and partner with local groups,” said Rutgers Water Resource Extension Specialist Chris Obropta. Staff from Rutgers University’s Water Resources Program not only helped to engineer and build the rain garden, they also worked with directly with high school students to help them understand the role of rain gardens in the environment.

“For PDE, this is a really fantastic project to manage water quality and create new STEM opportunities for local students to study how humans and nature interact,” said PDE’s Collaborative Programs Manager Kate Hutelmyer. “Rain gardens like this one mimic the way nature would handle rainfall, which protects our streams and helps alleviate local flooding issues. It also helps put water back into the aquifer, which is a critical source of drinking water here in South Jersey. And because the aquifer is connected to the Delaware River, a healthy aquifer means a healthier Delaware River and Bay, which is really important to us.”


PDE gives a huge thanks to staff from Rutgers and to teachers and faculty at Salem High School for helping to build the project, and to the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for supporting this effort.