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.”
Many Chicago communities have issues with flooding after storms. Abigail Bobrow of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has written and photographed a piece featuring first-hand stories of home flooding, a history of Chicago’s changing landscape attempting to prevent stormwater issues, and the research that is being done to help solve the problem. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant has funded some of this research. Below is an excerpt of the full story.
City officials and organizations are very aware of the condition James and thousands of other Chicagoans find themselves in every time it rains.
In fact, for its entire 180-year existence, the city has been shifting, manipulating, and even fighting against the flow of water to prevent not only surface flooding and the spread of disease, but also the contamination of Chicago’s freshwater drinking supply, Lake Michigan.
This issue has literally shaped the city of Chicago.
Mary Pat McGuire, an Illinois landscape architecture professor with homes in Urbana and Chicago, is joining the efforts to address urban flooding. With funding from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, a land-grant university program that focuses on coastal community issues, she and her graduate student, Jinyu Shen, are leading an ambitious research project looking at how to sustainably design stormwater solutions in the Chicago region—above and below ground.
Mary Pat’s attention is on ecological sustainability, that is, creating a way for stormwater to infiltrate and be absorbed by the ground in a way that is nourishing for the city, not crippling. Mary Pat and her interdisciplinary team of landscape architects, geologists, and civil engineers from the university are focusing on the southern part of the Chicago landscape, an area where fewer projects like this are taking place.
A smartphone app named “Rain Garden,” designed to help people plan and build rain gardens across America, is now customized with a specialized list of plants suited for Indiana. Through video tutorials, diagrams and tools, the app makes it easy to learn the basics of designing, installing and maintaining a rain garden.
Many people and communities use sustainable landscape design and management practices, such as rain gardens, to prevent polluted stormwater runoff from flowing into nearby rivers and streams and harming the water supply. To stop runoff from reaching water bodies, stormwater can be directed toward rain gardens to be absorbed by plants and soils.
Hoosiers can download “Rain Garden” for free through the Apple or Google app store. Created at the University of Connecticut, the app includes tools for determining soil type, measuring the area needed for the garden, and managing multiple rain garden projects.
The Indiana plant list was made possible by Kara Salazar of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Purdue Rainscaping Education Program, Rosie Lerner of Purdue Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, John Orick of the Purdue Master Gardener program, Kris Medic of the Purdue Extension Community Development program, Jane Frankenberger of Purdue Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Laura Esman of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.
Jordan Lillybridge interned in Chicago with IISG Water Resource EconomistMargaret 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.
The forty participants gladly retreated from the hot sun and humid weather to a Bradley University laboratory to learn about green infrastructure, a water management approach the city of Peoria is relying on to help with its combined sewer overflow (CSO) issues.
“What do you think this area looked like 500 years ago?” asked IISG and Illinois Water Resources Center Stormwater Specialist Eliana Brown who led the workshop.
Hands shot up as the campers described the prairies and forests they imagined once covered the land compared with the homes and businesses that make up the city today.
Tynasia McCalain, 12, acts a “rainmaker” as part of the workshop.
Brown’s point was driven home with the use of an activity that simulates the problems with developing land without providing a way to capture stormwater that otherwise washes into local waterways.
Using water, cups, and sponges as stand-ins for rainstorms, the Illinois River, and the Peoria landscape, the girls were able to draw parallels with the issues that Peoria is facing.
“There are many things happening in Peoria related to the river that engage city employees and landscape designers,” said Judy Schmidt, 4-H metro youth development educator at Illinois Extension and one of the camp’s organizers. “It seemed like a perfect time to engage the girls in discussions about how they are impacted by the quality of the water in the river and how they impact it as well.”
Illinois Water Resources Center intern Ashley Rice, center, helps out the campers with workshop.
Elizabeth Setti, who will be going into seventh grade at Washington Gifted School, came away from the session with a better understanding of the problems and the possible solutions.
“It was really interesting to see how we had new ideas to make the sewage not overflow,” Setti said. “I knew about the rain barrels, but I didn’t know about the rain gardens.”
It will take at least twenty years to come close to solving Peoria’s CSO concerns with green infrastructure, and with the right resources the girls can help with the effort.
“I want to empower them to transform their community and to be that generation that creates the change that has to happen. They have to be the ones to do it,” said Brown.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.
Stormwater management in Indiana is getting a shot in the arm next month with the launch of the Rainscaping Education Program. A collaboration between Purdue Extension, IISG, and others, the programprovides how-to information and resources on landscape design and management practices that help prevent polluted stormwater from reaching local waterways. Practices are appropriate for both residential gardens and small-scale public spaces, including schools and community centers. It all starts April 14 with the first in a series of workshops focused on rain gardens. Over the course of five three-hour sessions, participants will visit and discuss existing rain gardens in the community and learn how to design, construct, and maintain one with a focus on community education. They will also get a chance to test their knowledge by collaborating on a demonstration rain garden with community partners. The Rainscaping Education Program is open to Purdue Master Gardeners, personnel at conservation organizations, stormwater professionals, and landscape professionals and consultants. For more information and to learn how to register, visit the program website. ***Photo: The plants and soil in rain gardens help absorb stormwater and filter out pollutants. Courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Residents for Raingardens and BioSwales.
The mission of NASA’s newest Earth satellite may sound simple, but its findings could have huge impacts across the world and right here in the Midwest. When it launched last month, the Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, began a three-year project to collect data on a key player in the water and carbon cycles that determine plant growth and drive weather patterns: soil moisture. IISG’s Michael Brennan has the details.
As the name suggests, soil moisture data tells us how much water the soil can absorb and store. These measurements play a crucial role in everything from knowing when to plant crops to community flood planning. If there isn’t enough moisture in the soil, plants can’t take root and grow. And if the soil’s storage capacity has been maxed out, any additional rain or snowfall will runoff into nearby rivers and lakes—carrying nutrients and contaminants with it.
Due to the earth’s vast landscape, tracking and assessing soil moisture is extremely challenging, especially in remote locations. In fact, a lack of detailed soil moisture data has historically been a significant hurdle for community planners, farmers, and climate and weather forecasters. SMAP has the potential to change all of that. Its microwave radiometer and radar instruments will give us the most accurate, high-resolution moisture data ever collected from space. And its orbital path will ensure we have measurements from pole to pole.
NASA has said that it expects to release the first set of measurements within nine months, with fully-validated data expected in 15 months. With these numbers in hand, farmers will be able to hone in on the ideal time for planing and harvesting and community decision makers will be able to pinpoint their flood risk—and plan accordingly. The data will also tell scientists how much carbon is being stored in or released by plants, allowing them to refine the climate models that we rely on to predict and prepare for the impacts of climate change.
The NASA space program is responsible for a lot of technological and scientific advancements, but SMAP may be its greatest contribution yet.
For more information on SNAP for video showing its launch and orbit, visit smap.jpl.nasa.gov/.
October brought good news for the residents of Blue Island, IL when the state announced a $1.1 million investment to expand and improve the city’s stormwater management efforts. The bulk of the grant money will go to green infrastructure projects along one of the city’s major roadways, which will reduce flooding, improve local water quality, and beautify the community. Remaining dollars will be used to restore an 11-acre wetland in a northeast detention pond.
The new projects are the latest in a series of local, state, and non-profit programs tackling stormwater runoff in this suburban community. In 2012, IISG teamed up with the Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Illinois EPA, and many others to combat local flooding with native plants, rain gardens, and rain barrels. That year, the Blue Island, Blue Water initiative helped distribute 125 rain barrels to residents and institutions in one of the city’s flood-prone neighborhoods. And roughly 1,000 native plants and trees were planted over the course of the project. Sea Grant educators and specialists also conducted numerous teacher and homeowner workshops to strengthen community awareness of green infrastructure practices and other strategies for managing and reducing stormwater runoff.
It’s early success led the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to name Blue Island, Blue Water a Millennium Reserve model project in 2012. Lessons learned during the project have also helped inform the new Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, charged with coordinating the region’s stormwater and green infrastructure efforts to maximize the impact of individual city and agency projects. The collaborative is led by the Metropolitan Agency for Planning and brings together numerous groups interested in stormwater issues, including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, and IISG.
Eliana Brown recently joined the Illinois Water Resources Center as an outreach specialist. Prior to starting at IWRC, she worked at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Facilities & Services as the MS4 coordinator and at Illinois EPA as a field engineer. Eliana has a M.S. in environmental engineering and a B.S. in general engineering and marketing from the University of Illinois.
The following is a contributing post from Eliana, who has a passion for rain gardens and green infrastructure:
When you were a university student, did you ever reimagine your campus landscape? Students at the University of Illinois did exactly that as an assignment for Landscape Architecture (LA) 452, Native Plants and Design.
The U of I campus has 84 miles of storm sewer, most of which drain rainwater directly to Boneyard Creek. The LA 452 students designed landscapes with elements that capture water and allow it to soak in on-site to reduce loads to the existing storm sewer and creek. These elements (called green infrastructure) include rain gardens, swales, and green roofs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sees green infrastructure as a way to create sustainable, resilient communities that improve water quality.
EPA has a competition called the Campus RainWorks Challenge that invites “student teams to design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus showing how managing stormwater at its source can benefit the campus community and the environment.”
According to Jason Berner, EPA environmental protection specialist, who has been involved with administering the competition, it is a great way for students to see how green infrastructure is related to the larger campus master plan. “It moves us beyond single pilot projects, but at the same time, blends both small and large scale thinking,” he explained.
LA 452 instructor Tawab Hlimi is leading the U of I Campus RainWorks entry. Students in his class helped brainstorm ideas for the entry. One of those ideas is pictured. Student Jiwon
Kim reimagined the grounds at the National Soybean Research Building (which happens to house Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Water Resources Center). Native plant rain gardens intercept stormwater from the building roof and parking lot. During large storms, the design takes advantage of existing storm sewers by overflowing excess water to them.
Like many cities and universities, the U of I began installing storm sewers more than 100 years ago. Storm sewers benefit cities by draining flooded areas. However, they can overload receiving streams and cause unintended damage. Adding green infrastructure elements to the existing infrastructure helps ensure a healthier ecosystem on-site and downstream.
Per Hlimi, “Through a campus wide application of rain gardens, students hybridized native plantings with a superficial stormwater management strategy to meet multiple objectives: accommodating the ‘first flush’ of frequent storm events through detention, infiltration, and biofiltration, reducing the load on existing subsurface infrastructure, improving the water quality entering into the Boneyard Creek, creating habitat for pollinators, and rendering the campus landscape as living laboratory.”
Perhaps one day in the not too distant future, students won’t have to imagine green infrastructure on campus. They’ll see it.