My name is Kate Gardiner and I recently joined the Illinois Water Resources Center (IWRC) as a part-time communications coordinator. Prior to starting at IWRC, I interned at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment and earned my B.S. from the University of Illinois in environmental sustainability.
Since sustainability can be so widely applied, the University of Illinois now incorporates lessons in sustainability into a multitude of courses in different fields spanning from business to architecture. Recently, I had the opportunity to join Eliana Brown, outreach specialist and rain garden expert with IWRC, to visit a landscape architecture class and provide feedback for the students’ final design review.
One of the key objectives of Landscape Architecture (LA) 452, led by Katherine Kraszewska, is to teach students to identify and incorporate native plant species when envisioning a new landscape. This is a win-win, as the native plants attract pollinators and, when used in rain gardens, can improve downstream water quality.
For their designs, students were instructed to increase connectivity between pollinator pockets and consider stormwater management. Pollinator pockets are spaces with native plants, serving as an oasis for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators traveling through the area. Pollinator pockets are scattered throughout the U of I campus, including the Facilities & Services’ low mow zones and the Master Gardener Idea Garden.
We spoke with several students about their designs, here are some of our favorites!
Landscape architecture senior Layne Knoche designed a sunken courtyard by the Allen Hall dormitory. His plan included a small grass lawn, native plantings that attract pollinators, and a patio for students to sit and enjoy nature. He chose his plantings based on seasonality, moisture tolerance, plant heights, and what pollinators they attract so that the garden could be beautiful all year round as well as attract different species.
Maria Esker, also a landscape architecture senior, designed an interactive campus rain garden. It included a path through the garden, large boulders along the path for sitting, and a wide range of native plantings for people to enjoy year round. Her rain garden would catch excess runoff from the adjacent parking lot and be a relief for pollinators traveling through campus.
Eliana shared with the students that they did a great job integrating concepts they learned in the rainscaping course into their final designs. This wasn’t the first time she visited the class—Eliana previously shared her expertise in a stormwater rainscaping guest lecture (along with Extension Educator Jason Haupt).
These bright students all had innovative and sustainably-inspired designs, greatly due to the teachings and encouragement from their professor as well as their own creativity. While reviewing their designs, we learned that many of the students in the class are graduating this year. As they move on from the university and start their careers, I wish them luck and hope they take what they’ve learned in LA 452 with them and apply it to their future designs.
Top photo, left to right: Terri Hallesy, Maria Esker, Eliana Brown, Katrina Widholm
Bottom photo, left to right: Katherine Kraszewska, Eliana Brown, Terri Hallesy, Katrina Widholm, and Kate Gardiner
When municipalities consider how to set water rates, they often look to neighboring communities as reference points. This can involve a lot of digging for data, which takes lots of time, and in the end, may be comparing apples with oranges.
In the Chicago area, communities can now benchmark their water rates much more easily and can set comparisons to other communities that make sense. Northeast Illinois is now one of eleven locations that has a free water rates dashboard providing utilities with the ability to compare their residential water and wastewater rates against multiple characteristics, including utility finances, system size, customer demographics, and geography.
The Northeast Illinois Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard was created by the University of North Carolina Environmental Science Center with support from the EPA Smart Management for Small Water Systems—a nationwide project of the Environmental Finance Center Network (EFCN).
The water rates data that brings this tool to life was compiled by Margaret Schneemann, IISG water resource economist and Jennifer Egert, IISG summer intern, in a survey of 224 municipalities in the greater Chicago region’s seven counties—Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will.
Managing water supplies sustainably starts with getting the price right.
One of the larger goals of the water rate dashboard is for municipal utilities to make informed choices when setting water rates so that critical rate-setting factors get their proper due. “Rate comparisons taken out of context can lead to peer pressure to keep rates low while neglecting other objectives such as cost recovery and conservation,” explained Schneemann.
Complementing the dashboard is the Full-Cost Water Pricing Guidebook
, which offers local decision makers basic “how tos” on implementing rates that encourage efficient water use and support investment in aging infrastructure.
The water rate dashboards include dials showing comparative measures of average monthly bills, affordability, how well rates cover operation and maintenance costs, and the level of conservation that is encouraged.
“The dashboard promotes resource sustainability while also supporting financial security for the utility and economic development for the community,” added David Tucker, EFCN project director.
For utilities that make the decision to raise water rates to more sustainable levels, the dashboard provides data to back up these proposals. In designing this resource, it was made user-friendly for a variety of possible audiences, including city officials, reporters, and customers.
A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy.
The Sustainable Communities program, a collaboration between IISG and Purdue University Extension, has been helping Indiana decision makers and residents improve the long-term health of their communities for years. And learning about available workshops and resources is now easier than ever with their new program website.
Visitors will find information on key Purdue University Extension programs and resources to support community planning. Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces, for example, provides a framework for collecting data on community assets and using that data to preserve and improve parks, town centers, and other public spaces. The program will also help community leaders charged with managing public spaces and implementing new projects build communities that are more resilient to economic and environmental changes. The process starts with a one-day workshop that helps participants identify best practices for improving public spaces. Collaborative activities emphasize forming partnerships to achieve community sustainability goals, and follow-up working group meetings facilitated by Purdue Extension provide the resources and technical support needed to plan and implement projects tailored to individual communities. Workshops can be scheduled now. The complete curriculum will be available for download in early 2015.
For Master Gardeners, stormwater educators, and others involved in community education programs, a visit to the website is a quick way to learn about a train-the-trainer program designed to reduce stormwater runoff and the pollution it carries. Rainscaping Education is an advanced training opportunity that includes classroom instruction, online learning opportunities, and field trips to community examples of rainscaping projects. Participants also team up with community partners to design and create a demonstration rain garden. At the end of the four training modules, participants are prepared to support rainscaping projects and associated education programs in their communities. Workshops will begin this spring.
For more information on Purdue’s Sustainable Communities Extension Program, contact Kara Salazar.
Our summer internship program has wrapped up for another year. This summer, seven students and recent graduates worked with our specialists on broad range of issues, including AIS prevention, sediment remediation, and water supply planning. Brittany Sievers spent her internship working with Kara Salazar, IISG’s sustainable communities specialist. She had this to say about her summer experiences:
“Since my internship covered many programs, I worked on different projects every day, which kept me busy and engaged. Some of my favorite projects were those that gave me an opportunity to develop my professional writing skills and become a published author. I wrote several curriculum pieces for the Enhancing Public Spaces program and pieces that will appear on the program’s website once it is complete. I expanded the Green Meetings and Events Planning Guide that a previous intern created by adding ‘cheat sheets’ for large events and professional meetings that summarized the information provided within the publication. Finally, I wrote scripts for two rainscaping training videos—plant selection and rain garden design.
I was also able to get out of the office and work directly with the public and other key stakeholders on several occasions. I was at the Wabash Riverfest with a trivia game geared towards children that I developed. I also assisted Kara during pilot testing of the Tipping Points and Indicators tool in Hobart, IN and with a presentation of the program during the 2014 Institute for Sustainable Development in Nashville, IN.
Since I plan to work in an outreach position in the future, this internship was perfect for me. I had not had work experience in outreach before, but I have enjoyed being active in several outreach clubs at Purdue to facilitate positive change on the Purdue University campus and the surrounding community. I know my experiences this summer will help my chances of landing a job and excelling in that position in the future.”
With her undergraduate work in natural resources and environmental sciences complete, Brittany is turning her sights to graduate school. In fact, she began work on a Master’s in marine conservation and policy earlier this week at Stony Brook University in New York.
As summer begins to wind down, so do IISG’s summer internships. For John Saltanovitz, though, working as an intern at Purdue University’s Sustainable Communities Extension Program is just the beginning. With a summer full of hands-on outreach experience under his belt, John plans to pursue a career as an environmental engineer so he can continue to help communities and organizations better use and conserve natural resources.
Many of the issues surrounding community sustainability—such as land use planning, pollution prevention, and water conservation—were not new to John when he started working with IISG’s Kara Salazar earlier this summer. As a senior working towards a degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science and a life-long resident of Northwest Indiana, he was even familiar with some outreach efforts already underway in the Lake Michigan region. His summer internship gave him a chance to apply what he has learned over the years and work firsthand with communities.
“We hear a lot about sustainability in our classes and talk about what needs to be done” said John. “This internship gave me a chance to do something instead of just talk it. It’s really exciting to be working on things that you always said you wanted to do.”
Much of his summer efforts went towards developing a guide for conducting “green” meetings and events. At the heart of the guide is a checklist of best practices that advise anyone planning or managing events, helping them make sustainable decisions. Some of these best practices include relying on public transportation, composting leftover food, and reducing waste. Throughout his internship, John worked directly with Purdue Extension educators and specialists, the guide’s primary audience, to determine what information they needed and develop the checklist. The Best Practices Guide for Green Meetings and Events will soon be sent to Purdue Agriculture Communications for peer review and editing before publishing the finalized version through Extension.
In addition to his work on the guide, John helped develop a new Purdue Master Gardener advanced training program for rain gardeners, provided content on education strategies for the Tipping Points and Indicators Project, contributed information to the new Sustainable Communities website, and led outreach activities at the IISG booth during the Wabash Riverfest in West Lafayette. He was also involved in planning for IAGLR, and joined three other IISG interns as a volunteer during the week-long conference.
“Through his enthusiasm, detailed work, and dedication, John has truly helped to advance new program offerings and education materials that will support sustainability programs in communities state-wide,” said Kara. “I look forward to continuing to work with John as we complete the peer review and editing process for the Best Practices Guide for Green Meetings and Events publication.”