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Getting to know green infrastructure

20,000-person WEFTEC conference latest arena for Calumet Stormwater Collaborative


This Space to Grow site relied on multi-partner collaboration. WEFTEC attendees hearing how, sparking ideas for back home.

The Calumet Stormwater Collaborative (CSC) has been on tour lately! For a three-year-old group whose purpose is to coordinate across boundaries and jurisdictions to solve regional stormwater and flooding challenges, hitting the road to engage a broad audience makes sense.

CSC members have been capturing the broad attention of practitioners outside the Calumet area recently, from Danielle Gallet’s keynote at the International Water Association’s Embrace the Water conference in Gothenburg, Sweden to presentations at the American Planning Association and the National Adaptation Forum conferences this spring.

Most recently, the CSC was active at the Water Environment Federation’s Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference—WEFTEC 2017—held in Chicago this October. WEFTEC is the water quality event of the year, when more than 20,000 participants gather. The CSC speaking tour ensemble was again featured during a popular morning panel discussion. We also learned that CSC member agency, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), received two awards as an example of top-of-industry excellence! Read more about it here.

A glimpse of green infrastructure up close

To experience the multi-faceted approach to green infrastructure installation and maintenance the CSC embraces, MPC organized a tour during WEFTEC 2017 to bring conference participants to installations in the Calumet region. CSC member agencies shared their insights from working on the ground in stormwater management activities in the Calumet.

To recreate that site tour experience, read on for the highlights, and imagine light rainfall we embraced that afternoon as the perfect backdrop!

Stop #1: City of Blue Island—tackling urban flooding through multi-agency funding

What began as a bottom-up, community organizing effort to engage residents in sustainability and stormwater through rain barrels and rain gardens has developed into a significant green/gray investment from multiple sources and agencies, including MWRD and OAI, Inc./High Bridge, a social enterprise focused on green infrastructure installation and local job creation.

The City of Blue Island and its partners work together with neighborhood residents to address basement backups and on-street flooding caused by an aging combined sewer system. These partnerships have leveraged additional funding from the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the public–private Chi-Cal Rivers Fund.

Stop #2: Method Soap Factory—private-sector leadership in stormwater management in historic Pullman Park

Method Products PBC now has a LEED Platinum-certified soap factory in Chicago’s historic Pullman Park district. A 1,520-square foot rooftop canopy helps the factory decrease energy use, improve urban air quality and reduce stormwater runoff, resulting in less stress on public sewer systems. Other features of the site include a wind turbine, solar tracking trees and a stormwater retention pond.

Urban agriculture company Gotham Greens has taken over 75,000 square feet of the factory’s roof to create a commercial-scale greenhouse. The factory not only brings jobs to the region, but their greenhouse also produces approximately 500 tons of fresh, premium quality, pesticide-free produce annually for the local community and surrounding retail and restaurant market.

Stop #3: Space to Grow program brings agencies and non-profits to transform Chicago public schoolyards into community outdoor learning and play spaces that reduce flooding

Openlands and Healthy Schools Campaign partnered with Chicago Public Schools, MWRD and the City of Chicago Department of Water Management, to develop the Space to Grow program, which transforms elementary schools to dynamic green spaces for students and residents to learn and play. Innovative green infrastructure practices, such as underground storage, native rain gardens and porous playgrounds are integrated to each schoolyard design.

The Wadsworth Space to Grow schoolyard officially opened on November 29, 2016 after a $1.5 million transformation through this program. Check out this time lapse video of the schoolyard transformation. Because Wadsworth is a STEM school, the students participated in the design process by creating models and drawings for the new schoolyard. It was important to implement as many of those ideas as possible, said Principal Dr. Rashid Shabazz, “If the students and the community have ownership of the schoolyard, they are protectors for life.”

Bringing home knowledge as a souvenir

This was not only a fun opportunity to see green infrastructure up close. By sharing the proven approaches and the positive impacts being made on-the-ground, the tour served as motivation and critical information-sharing for the out-of-town practitioners who were armed with real-life examples for the return home to their own projects. Stephanie Johnson from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization sums it up in her own words:

“The visit to Wadsworth Elementary schoolyard was particularly impactful and meaningful to my work. Seeing the school embrace the green infrastructure on their site and hearing from the professionals involved to understand how the various partners came together to make this project a reality will be very helpful in my efforts to work with schools in Minneapolis to do similar work.”

At the heart of the CSC is the collective will to work together on coordinated, goal-driven planning and investment in green infrastructure that will improve stormwater management through the Calumet region.



CSC, stormwater, WEFTEC


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