New “Stormwater@Home” video series provides timely tips to prevent flooding

July 8th, 2019 by

With increased rainfall in the Great Lakes region, many homeowners have been affected by flooding more than usual. Eliana Brown, a stormwater specialist with University of Illinois Extension and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG), has created a video series called “Stormwater@Home” to teach homeowners simple steps they can take to better manage stormwater on their property. The series gives tips and tricks to help avoid pooling in yards, flooding in basements and excess runoff flowing into local waterways. 

“Most people want to pitch in and do the right thing to help out their neighborhoods and waterways,” said Brown. “This video series showcases some examples of practices people can do at their own home at various levels of investment.” While some stormwater management techniques might take a large amount of time, effort and money to put into practice, many actions that homeowners can take do not require as many resources.

“Things have been really wet in the area since around the spring of 2018,” said Veronica Fall, a climate specialist with University of Illinois Extension and IISG. “This has contributed to a lot of flooding events not just because there has been excessive rainfall, but also because the soil has been so saturated that rainfall is not absorbed and therefore just runs off, eventually entering our waterways [and contributing to dangerously high water].”

“The conditions that we’re currently experiencing with frequent, heavy rainstorms and flooding events are expected to become much more typical in the future,” said Fall. “It is critical that homeowners take action now to better manage stormwater on their property before conditions worsen.” 

Brown’s Stormwater@Home video series covers the following topics:

“Managing rainwater is a way for us to take responsibility for what runs off our impervious surfaces,” said Brown. “It’s important to reduce the amount of runoff on our properties to mitigate flooding and impacts to waterways. We hope this video series also shows that these practices can be beautiful and enjoyable.”

IISG provides communities with additional information about stormwater and green infrastructure, as well as a southern Lake Michigan rain garden manual and native planting guide for rain garden beds.


Writer: Hope Charters, 765.494.1614,

Sources: Eliana Brown, 217.265.0760,

New IISG research targets natural resources priorities and solutions

October 17th, 2017 by

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) plans to award $675,000 to four new research projects that will help inform decision makers as they address some of the region’s pressing environmental issues, including managing stormwater, restoring stream habitats and protecting beachfronts. The research will take place in 2018-2019.

Two projects will focus on green infrastructure as part of stormwater management, but using different approaches. At the University of Illinois, landscape architect Mary Pat McGuire will lead a diverse team that includes David Grimley with the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) to create a soils database for the Calumet region southeast of Chicago to assess soil health and appropriateness for effective green infrastructure. The researchers will evaluate green infrastructure planning in the region and work with municipalities in pilot projects to help integrate their findings into site selection and design strategy decisions.

Bernie Engel and colleagues in the Purdue University Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering will enhance their simulation software to include the long-term effects of green infrastructure on reducing and preventing flooding. Their model is part of the Tipping Point Planner online toolbox, which helps local decision makers plan for future development in their communities. This new project will be closely tied to a south side Chicago neighborhood—Washington Park. There, using their updated model, the research team hopes to demonstrate the impact of optimally-places green infrastructure on flooding. Akilah Martin, in DePaul University’s School for New Learning, will help share these results with students and local residents.

Washington Park, Chicago, IL

Washington Park, Chicago, Illinois

At the University of Illinois, hydrogeologist Piotr Cienciala and ecological physiologist Cory Suski will lead a multi-disciplinary project to study the effect of turbulence on fish swimming behavior. By studying how the physiology of various fish species is affected by water movement, the researchers can help inform the placement of fish passage structures as part of stream restoration projects. The findings will likely be transferable to stream projects beyond the Great Lakes region and may help inform simulations to explore restoration outcomes under various projected climate or land use change scenarios that alter water movement and fish habitat.

U of I researchers will also use historical documents of the geology of the Illinois shoreline to help beach managers predict and address future conditions. Through old photos and reports, ISGS’s Ethan Theuerkauf will lead an effort to tell the story of land changes and environmental conditions over the last century at Illinois Beach State Park. Experts from the Prairie Research Institute, Midwest Regional Climate Center, and Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center are also taking part in this research. Working closely with beach managers, the researchers will develop future coastal change scenarios to help inform the decision making process.

“Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is excited to support these new research efforts,” said Tomas Hook, IISG associate director for research. “They are targeting issues that have been identified as priorities for the Lake Michigan region of Illinois and Indiana and they have great potential to yield solution-based results for our region. Collectively, these projects should also contribute to informing infrastructure and environmental management in coastal regions throughout the United States.”

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

Intern gets his hands dirty building Peoria rain garden

June 12th, 2017 by

As a new intern with Illinois Water Resources Center, I attended a workshop last month with about 30 people from organizations including Peoria Public Works Department, Peoria Innovation Team, and Illinois Master Gardener and Master Naturalists at the Peoria Public Works building to learn the fundamentals of rain garden design.

Peoria’s interest in installing rain gardens has grown out of a pressing need to manage stormwater to help mitigate overflows from the city’s combined sewers into the Illinois River. Rain gardens can be part of an overall green infrastructure strategy that significantly reduces combined sewer overflows. IISG and the city of Peoria worked together over a year to finalize the details on this workshop, an important step towards addressing the the stormwater issue.

After an early-morning drive from Champaign to Peoria, I had the opportunity to listen to several guest speakers, including Kris Lucius, a landscape architect with SmithGroupJJR, and Eliana Brown, IISG stormwater specialist who introduced the group to rain garden design essentials. We also heard from Jason Haupt, Illinois Extension educator, who discussed details regarding plant species and best management practices for maintaining rain gardens.

Following a brief lunch, Kara Salazar, sustainable communities extension specialist, led the attendees on a group rain garden design scenario activity. Each group was tasked with a specific rain garden scenario that presented different planning obstacles.

Jason Haupt, Illinois Extension educator, speaks during the classroom session at the Peoria rain garden workshop.

My group was responsible for developing a rain garden in a typical suburban home setting. The role and functions of landscape architecture, which I’ve learned from my graduate studies as well as this workshop, can encompass numerous realms, including urban planning and design, architecture, and economic and community re-development.

Tuesday’s events brought many of these fields together. Designing and planting the rain gardens served as both a conceptual and physical implementation of green infrastructure and development. How this small project will serve as a precedent for the City of Peoria is one of many aspects of landscape architecture that interests me.

Cameron Letterly, left, helps distribute mulch at the rain garden build in front of the Peoria Public Works Department.

Darren Graves, intern at the Public Works Department in Peoria, designed the project that the participants then planted in front of the building.

“I wanted to add some color and some diversity in plant material to Public Works Department,” Graves said. “The more diversity we have in plant material creates a habitat for wildflower, pollinators, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies. This is one big cycle that can benefit everybody through our health as well as our crops.”

“I think landscape should be more than just shrubbery,” Graves added.

Anthony Corso, chief innovation officer and director of Peoria’s Innovation Team said this project would help the Peoria Public Works staff “understand what the maintenance looks like of this [rain garden] plan” and that it would serve as a model for what is “supposed to be expanded over two decades into about eight square miles of the city and beyond.”

All the participants gather for a photo in the new rain garden.

I initially had no idea of the scale, nor incredible enthusiasm of the volunteers for this project. However, after consulting the master plan and after digging the numerous holes for plants, I knew this experience was a step towards greater green infrastructure awareness for all involved.

Through our combined efforts, we were not only able to construct a functional rain garden in under two hours, but also able to involve an incredible array of volunteers from a multitude of disciplines.

To best summarize my experience, when our team began a system of handing river stones to each other, roughly defining the edges of the garden, I remembered a quote from earlier in the morning from Peoria Innovation Team’s Anthony Corso, “It’s easier to learn when you do some hands-on.”

Cameron Letterly is a summer intern with the Illinois Water Resources Center (IWRC) where he is currently working on several projects in coordination with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Cameron is a student in the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a prospective Illinois MBA candidate.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.


Land-use planning is more efficient with targeted tools

February 27th, 2017 by

When communities look to address water quality issues like nutrient pollution, there are an assortment of computer models to help them simulate scenarios to solve their problems.

But how do local officials and watershed planners know which models will best address their needs? Which ones will consider cost as part of the solution?

“When watershed planners want additional information that will help them make decisions about nutrient management and land-use issues, they want to do it in the most expeditious way possible—with the data they have available, as well as economically, quickly, and with confidence in the results,” said Purdue University agricultural engineer Bernard Engel.

With funding from IISG, Engel and his team analyzed these tools to assess their value in addressing community land use and water concerns.

“Models vary greatly in terms of data inputs, level of expertise needed to use them, what exactly they model or simulate—each has strengths and weaknesses because of that,” said Engel. The researchers compared model performances to observed data sets, which allows them to make some recommendations on when you might use the models and what you might expect from them.

Engel’s team is hoping to push for some models that they feel very confident about to be more accessible to stakeholders. And some are already available in more comprehensive decision support tools, such as Tipping Points and Indicators.

Tipping Points is a complex web-based tool that uses data to help communities planners understand how close their watershed is to ecological thresholds related to a range of water issues and what the watershed will look like if land-use decisions continue on the same course.

Through facilitation, communities develop an action plan that includes customized steps to improve current conditions and steer clear of tipping points.

Engel’s team spends most of their time developing and improving land-use computer models. One of their additions to Tipping Points is a tool to analyze the impacts of land-use changes due to urbanization and the construction of green infrastructure such as rain barrels, porous pavement or green roofs. It was incorporated when decision makers in Peoria, Illinois signed up to use Tipping Points to develop a green infrastructure plan to address the city’s stormwater issues.

Engel’s assessment project has helped inform what direction the team is heading. For example, they plan to explore ideas to improve speed and cost effectiveness. “If the models are faster, they will be more accessible for people,” said Engel.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

Intern update: Jordan Lillybridge

August 12th, 2016 by

Jordan Lillybridge interned in Chicago with IISG Water Resource Economist Margaret Schneemann. He is a senior at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin majoring in geospacial science with a minor in geographic information systems.

One of the biggest stresses of a college student going into his/her last year of school is finding an internship or long-term job that will help them grow as a person.  When I was offered the position of Green Infrastructure Workforce Intern with IISG, I felt as if everything was coming together.

I knew I had a great opportunity to explore the green industry. Coming into the internship, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my geospatial science and GIS degree, but I knew I needed some work experience to realize what my real desire was.

This internship gave me the opportunity to understand a significant problem that underdeveloped or low-income communities have – flooding. Before the internship, I had little knowledge about the process of installing and maintaining green stormwater infrastructure.

Over the past three months, I have had an opportunity to be a part of the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative (CSC). CSC is a group of stakeholders that has come together to tackle flooding issues within the Millennium Reserve (southern Cook County). As a part of the Training & Maintenance working group within the CSC, I focused on issues and gaps related to training skills and workforce development. One of my tasks was to assess what other cities have done before us to address these issues and create summaries of these reports. We had monthly collaborative meetings, which was my chance to update our working group on new information as well as get key feedback from local case studies.

Aside from reading and reporting to our working group about areas to focus on, I had opportunities to step out of the office and network with different organizations. The first was a Center of Neighborhood Technology (CNT) presentation about their RainReady Initiative at the South Suburban Mayors and Management Association.  CNT was educating the community and potential at-risk citizens on their community and neighborhood green infrastructure programs.

The second was a GreenCorps action plan meeting. GreenCorps is an organization that trains workers with barriers on how to maintain the environment including green infrastructure installations. People who were a part of the meeting gave valuable feedback to GreenCorps on how to help them grow.

Many of us who attended were able to meet past and present trainees. For me, understanding their perspective was pivotal considering some of the trainees grew up in the same neighborhood as me. To see people wanting to make a difference in their community by focusing on sustainability makes me appreciate everything that organizations like GreenCorps and OAI Inc. do for the low-income and underdeveloped neighborhoods. Workforce development for the green infrastructure industry is key.

The past three months working in the CSC with Margaret Schneemann has given me an opportunity to not only impact neighborhoods close to mine, but to also gain valuable communication, analytical, and planning skills along the way. It has also narrowed my thoughts on what I want to do as a profession – renewable consulting.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.     

Peoria stormwater issue reaches a tipping point

June 7th, 2016 by

Forty people gathered in a conference room at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on a snowy January day. Artists, activists, public officials, union representatives, academics, and retirees were there to participate in the first of several planning workshops. They were taking a hard look at the city they call home, and imagining the city they would like it to become.

“The potential is so amazing, its geography, its natural and cultural history,” said Anthony Corso, Peoria’s chief innovation officer and director of the Innovation Team that helped organize the meeting. “It’s a sad state we’re in right now, but with the right motivations we can change direction.”

Corso was charged with addressing one of the most pressing issues Peoria has: combined sewer overflow. When a wet-weather condition arises and rain and melting snow overwhelm the system, this can result in raw sewage dumping into the Illinois River.

The problem, which for years has plagued the city, is being closely watched by the United States and Illinois Environmental Protection Agencies. The message the agencies gave the city was clear: Develop a plan to fix it.


Kara Salazar, IISG sustainable communities Extension specialist, introduces Tipping Points to Peoria.

Kara Salazar, sustainable communities Extension specialist with IISG, led that visioning session workshop using a complex, web-based planning tool, Tipping Points and Indicators. The tool is a collaboration of 22 scientists and nine institutions. It compiles research from around the Great Lakes that identifies impacts on water quality from multiple land uses—agriculture and urban—in various locations, particularly near lakes and streams.

Tipping Points uses data to help communities and planners understand how close their watershed is to ecological thresholds and what the watershed will look like if land-use decisions continue on the same course. Cross a tipping point, and you risk not being able to rehabilitate an impacted region.


Peoria Innovation Team members, from left, project managers Kathryn Shackelford and Kate Green and director Anthony Corso along the Illinois River

Before this Peoria project, Tipping Points had not been used on such a heavily urbanized location. Purdue PhD student Jingqiu Chen studied the impacts urbanization has on water quality and developed an additional modeling tool specifically based on Peoria’s stormwater issues. The tool’s ultimate goal is to help communities determine the best way possible—ecologically and economically—to maintain and restore healthy water conditions.

“Peoria has an issue they’re trying to resolve and there are very costly solutions to it, but we’re helping them explore alternatives that are less costly and would provide other environmental benefits as well,” said Dr. Bernie Engle, Purdue department head of Agricultural and Biological Engineering leading the project with Jingqiu Chen.


One way to do that is green infrastructure, which can include parks and open spaces, or installing more porous surfaces. Each of those choices will have positive and negative effects on the community and the goal is to pick the suite that match community values.

The city’s goal is to resolve its problem with 100 percent green infrastructure. If the plan is successful, Peoria would be the first in the nation.

Tipping Points is helping Peoria figure out not only what environmental variables need attention, but how to go about choosing among the many green infrastructure options. The program is so targeted, it can, for instance, even help a community like Peoria set aside land for agritourism or rehabilitate wildlife populations.

Peoria will be getting lots of help along the way. University of Illinois Extension and Illinois Water Resources Center will offer guidance to the city to do its part in addressing the state’s ongoing nutrient loss reduction strategy as well as provide education opportunities.

“We plan to help residents of all ages learn how to manage stormwater in a different way by showing them what they can do—even in their own homes,” said Eliana Brown, IISG stormwater specialist. “They have an opportunity to be part of the stormwater solution that will help protect the Illinois River.”

This story appears in the latest edition of  The Helm.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension.

Four students join the IISG summer internship program

June 6th, 2016 by

IISG is excited to welcome four student interns this summer to help our specialists with everything from needs assessments, to outreach, to strategy facilitating, to economic valuations—and more. These four will spend 12 weeks working closely with a Sea Grant specialist on the issues affecting the Great Lakes.

Intern_2016_Jordan_LillybridgeJordan Lillybridge
Green Infrastructure Workforce Intern
Margaret Schneemann
Located at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Jordan is a senior at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin majoring in geospacial science with a minor in geographic information systems.

He will be conducting a needs assessment and market analysis to ensure that training and workforce development efforts are in line with the Calumet region’s occupational and employment needs, leveraging the relationship gap between stakeholders and the community, and making sure all aspects (skill gaps, design standards, municipal regulations and the regional environment policies) are being looked at when achieving a Green Infrastructure program


Abigail Petersen
Community Sustainability Intern
Kara Salazar
Located at Purdue University

Abigail graduated in May from the University of Illinois in natural resources and environmental sciences. She will be pursuing a Master’s degree in August 2016 in agriculture education at the University of Illinois.

During her summer internship, Abigail will collaboratively develop new extension education and training materials (case studies, fact sheets, excerpts of guide books) related to public spaces, rain gardens, and watershed management topics. She will also be help campus specialists deliver extension and training programs to communities across Indiana. 

Abigail has hit the ground running in the two weeks since her internship began. She has attended the inaugural train the trainer program for the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces program, supported the first meeting and launch of the advisory board and program development effort for the new Natural Resources Leadership Program, attended strategic planning meetings for IISG in Chicago, and helped to host a community meeting to start the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces program in Columbus, Indiana.


Ashley Rice
Science Writer and Nutrient Strategy Facilitator Intern
Anjanette Riley, Eliana Brown, and Lisa Merrifield
Located at University of Illinois

Ashley comes to us from the agricultural communications program at Illinois State University, where she is about to start her senior year.

This summer, Ashley will wear two hats: a science writer and nutrient strategy facilitator. For her part in the communications team, Ashley oversees the Illinois Water blog, writing news and feature articles on IWRC research projects and important water issues facing the state.

She will also work closely with IWRC and IISG’s Eliana Brown to help facilitate Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy implementation and support Eliana’s other stormwater and water quality outreach efforts.

Intern_2016_Lauren_SchnoebelenLauren Schnoebelen

Water Pricing Intern
Margaret Schneemann
Located at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Lauren is a recent graduate from Northern Michigan University with a major in environmental science, a concentration in natural resources and a minor in sustainability.

She will be working on the Ecosystem Services Project helping with organizing tables of articles and writing the literature reviews on their economic valuations.

Lauren will also be on the water rates database where she will be working with water rates and pricing ordinances.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension.

How does green infrastructure happen on the ground?

July 15th, 2015 by
How does “green infrastructure” go from being just a good idea to actually being implemented in municipalities? At the recent Resilient Chicago workshop, we learned how this happens from a variety of perspectives.
Blue Island, Ill., a Chicago suburb with a growing problem with flooded basements, has become a leader in executing green infrastructure initiatives in recent years.
Jason Berry, deputy director of planning and building, described how at one point, even city engineers needed convincing that green infrastructure is not a “feel-good” project, but an effective and sustainable way to address stormwater issues.

Much of the city’s success is due to grant support from local, state, and even national sources. And, there is public involvement. As part of its Blue Island, Blue Water project, the city engaged many of its residents in installing rain barrels and planting rain gardens. The city is putting in permeable pavement, a bioswale, and numerous rain gardens.

“Green infrastructure is visible infrastructure,” explained Berry. “You can see it work.”
It also takes maintenance, which Berry described as a challenge for the city going forward.
Most communities will need to fund green infrastructure through limited municipal budgets, according to Josh Ellis, program director with the Metropolitan Planning Council. But he thinks green infrastructure has the possibly of becoming the new normal for infrastructure through “optimization.”
Optimization, as done by the City of Chicago, means maximizing investments through partnerships, leveraged funds, and multiple goals. Aaron Koch, deputy commissioner for sustainability, explained that the city has been employing green infrastructure for many years with green roofs and alleys, for instance. Now efforts are being planned more strategically.
For example, through the Space to Grow program, the city is partnering with Chicago Public Schools and nonprofits to “green” Chicago schoolyards. By planting rain gardens, and adding landscaping and playgrounds, students have a dryer, safer, greener, and more fun environment to play.

Argyle Street on Chicago’s north side is in the process of getting a facelift with porous pavement, planters, and trees that will go far to create community gathering spaces as well as enhance stormwater management. The Argyle Streetscape will be Chicago’s first “shared street” where pedestrians, cars, and bicycles will all co-exist in a curb-free world.

One way to normalize green infrastructure is to incorporate it into comprehensive planning. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) provides assistance for municipalities to do this.

According to Kate Evasic, associate planner, CMAP provides a process to collect data related to surface drainage, including historic conditions, topography, impervious cover, land use, and repetitive flood claims. And, the process provides the opportunities for shared solutions. CMAP has 50 projects underway right now.

-Irene Miles

(Photos from the Blue Island and the site design group, ltd. websites)

Urban flooding a timely issue at upcoming Resilient Chicago workshop

June 8th, 2015 by

Enough rain fell in Texas over the past month to cover the entire state in more than eight inches of water. The Trinity River in Dallas has risen to levels not seen in over 25 years. Flooding has resulted in $45 million worth of damage in Houston alone, and at least 31 people have died, with 10 still missing. As recovery in the Lone Star State begins, it becomes clear just how important urban flood management is, not only for the safety of people, but for the health and well being of the environment. Next month, Chicago, no stranger to flooding itself, will be the host location to a workshop confronting these very issues.

On July 8, IISG climate specialist Molly Woloszyn will be overseeing the next Resilient Chicago workshop: Urban Flood Management through No Adverse Impact and Green Infrastructure.Following up on a workshop from last year, this free, one-day event offers local government staffers and other interested professionals the opportunity to learn how to prepare for flooding in a more efficient and ecologically-conscious way. City planners, engineers, and members of non-profit organizations are called to gather at Loyola University to hear presentations from the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the City of Chicago, and many others.

The two primary foci of the workshop will be how to apply No Adverse Impact (NAI) floodplain management and integrating green infrastructure into comprehensive and capital improvement planning. By focusing on NAI floodplain management, the workshop will provide potential management solutions that can be applied from strictly flooding related problems to issues like water quality protection and stormwater management. And in showcasing the potential for green infrastructure, attendees will learn how to cope with the increased potential for soil saturation that comes with urban development. The workshop will be sponsored by ASFPM, and the NOAA Coastal Storms Program.


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