This post was written by MPC research assistant Alex Gilbert.
The Illinois Conservation Fund, Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are working together to create a Rain Garden Grant. Selected applicants will receive up to $1,000 to plant and construct rain gardens on public property in Illinois using native wetland or aquatic species. Teachers, staff of nonprofits and public institutions are eligible to apply, and applications are due by Nov. 30, 2010.
Rain gardens are a wonderful, natural way to manage stormwater, which is essential in any city, but particularly in Chicago because the city’s combined sewer system handles both stormwater and sewage. Both are treated before being sent down river to the Mississippi. During large storms, the combined sewer system can become overwhelmed with stormwater, leading to sewage overflow into Lake Michigan and surrounding waterways.
Rain gardens – which are depressions in a landscape planted with native wetland or aquatic vegetation – are ideal for urban environments. They absorb stormwater runoff, significantly reducing the likelihood of combined sewer overflows. Placed appropriately, rain gardens can handle additional runoff from impervious surfaces, such as sidewalks and roads, during storms.
Stormwater is also critical for recharging local groundwater. When rain falls on a sidewalk or road (or other impervious surface), most of it runs off into the sewer, carrying oil, dirt and debris with it. Rain gardens help to alleviate and filter some of this runoff, allowing cleaner water to recharge groundwater sources.
As a side benefit to homeowners, rain gardens are easy to maintain and provide a habitat for plants and some wildlife. Many native birds, butterflies, and valuable insects profit from rain garden.
If you’re thinking about installing a rain garden, check out these Chicagoland and Illinois resources for information and inspiration: