Public Info

Union County Extension Helps High School Students Build Flood-Busting Garden

Union County, NJ – The Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County teamed up with almost 200 Environmental Science students from Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark last Thursday to help reduce flooding and pollution in nearby Robinson’s Branch, by installing a new rain garden on the school grounds. The project was funded through a grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

“The Extension helps to connect our residents with economical, science based solutions for the challenges of today, and we are very proud to support its efforts,” said Freeholder Chairman Deborah Scanlon. “This partnership between the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County, the Township of Clark, and the State of New Jersey will hopefully serve as the model for future stormwater management projects throughout Union County.”

The Clark Public Works department provided tools for the planting, helped excavate the new 360 square foot rain garden, and installed soil amendments to improve drainage.

Rain gardens are designed to help reduce local and regional flooding problems, by creating a space in which excess stormwater can drain naturally into the soil. The new rain garden will help serve a number of educational purposes while helping to absorb stormwater from the Clark Public Works parking lot adjacent to the school.

The new rain garden also features native shrubs and grasses that help promote biodiversity, provide habitats for beneficial wildlife, improve stormwater drainage, and filter out contaminants.

Future plans for the site include harvesting rainwater from the roof of the Clark Public Works building next to the school. The water will be used for a “green” car wash for student fund-raising projects.  Runoff will flow into the rain garden instead of going to the storm drain.

The Arthur L. Johnson project is the first part of a larger program called the Robinson’s Branch Stormwater Management Implementation Project. It is collaboration between Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County, Rutgers Water Resources Program, the Township of Clark, and the City of Rahway.

Robinson’s Branch is a major tributary of the Rahway River.  Scotch Plains, Edison, Woodbridge, Plainfield, Fanwood, Westfield, Clark, and Rahway are all included in the Robinson’s Branch watershed.

Much of the watershed is covered by developed surfaces including lawns and playing fields as well as streets, parking lots, and buildings. Instead of soaking into the ground, water runs from these areas into storm drains. The excess surface runoff contributes to flooding and carries pollutants including car care products, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, dog and goose waste, oil, and grease.

Rain gardens and other “green” infrastructure solutions such as rain barrels, cisterns, and porous paving surfaces can help prevent these pollutants from reaching natural waterways, in addition to reducing the threat of flooding.

The new rain garden is just one of the Extension’s many community projects in Union County. The Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County is headquartered in the County services building at 300 North Avenue East in Westfield, and maintains a large demonstration garden in the County’s Watchung Reservation in Mountainside.

For information on any of the following program areas call the Extension offices, 908-654-9854:

  • Department Head Dr. Karen Ensle, RD: “Get Moving, Get Healthy” and “Grow Healthy” classes, grant programs and activities.
  • Michele Bakacs: Water resource improvement projects including the Robinson’s Branch project and the Build A Rain Barrel program.
  • Madeline Flahive-DiNardo:  Master Gardener Program.
  • Jim Nichnadowicz and staff:  Master Tree Steward Program and 4-H (Union County has more than a dozen 4-H clubs for children covering a variety of interests from archery and fashion to dog training and horticulture).
  • Janet Brun, RD and staff: SNAP-Ed nutrition program and nutrition classes for youths and adults.
  • Jeri Beaumont, RD: Union County Senior Congregate Meal Program (a collaboration between the Extension and the Union County Division on Aging).

Almost 200 Environmental Science Students from Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark took turns helping to install a new rain garden last week, under the supervision of staff from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County. The garden is specially designed to help reduce local flooding and filter out pollutants from stormwater. (Photo credit: Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County).

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For more information on any Union County press release, please contact Sebastian D’Elia, Communications Director for the County of Union, or a designee listed at the top of this press release.   Please join the County of Union online at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at