Want money for stormwater projects? Certain communities in Cook County are now eligible for grant funding! - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Want money for stormwater projects? Certain communities in Cook County are now eligible for grant funding!

MPC worked with Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to unlock an existing funding source for stormwater projects. 

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Rain Garden in Pullman Neighborhood of Chicago

If your community is within the watersheds of the Little Calumet River, Cal-Sag Channel, Poplar Creek, or the Des Plaines River in Cook County, you are now eligible to apply for grants to support specific types of stormwater management infrastructure projects! Read on to learn more.

Background on the Initiative

Back in 2017 we wrote a blog article about some exciting work getting underway to help open up a funding stream for stormwater projects. I am happy to report those efforts have paid off and more communities in Northeastern Illinois are now eligible to apply for grants through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Section 319 program.

One of MPC’s goals is to identify and open up funding and financing streams for local communities in order to address stormwater issues. Whether through our work on streamlining the State Revolving Fund or creating an online guide for creating dedicated revenue streams for stormwater management, MPC continues to help bring resources to local communities and other stakeholders to pay for needed infrastructure.

What is this Section 319 Grant Program?

Based-off 1987 amendments made to the national Clean Water Act, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) runs a grant program that assists in funding stormwater projects that help control waterway pollution. Called the 319 Grant Program, it provides financial support for non-pipe stormwater and water quality projects—such as streambank restoration, green, nature-based infrastructure, permeable pavement, etc. But there is a catch: applicants can only apply if a proposed project is within an IEPA approved watershed plan. Prior to now, several watersheds in Cook County did not have approved plans, so the communities and watershed stakeholders in those areas were not eligible to apply for a Section 319 grant. 

So a couple years ago, members of the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative—a multi-agency, multi-community collaborative made-up of state, regional and local units of government as well as private corporations, academics, regulators and NGO’s—suggested that watershed plans be developed that meet the criteria of the Section 319 Program in order to allow more communities the chance to apply for this source of grant funding. So we did! 

In 2016 MPC applied for and received an IEPA grant to work on plans for four watersheds in Cook County:

  •  Little Calumet River
  • Cal-Sag Channel
  • Poplar Creek
  • Des Plaines River

How We Created the Watershed Plans

MPC partnered with Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. (CBBEL) and dug into the work of creating the watershed plans. We actually did not have to start at square one—the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) had developed “Detailed Watershed Plans” for the six major watersheds in Cook County outside the City of Chicago. These plans studied the areas and developed recommendations for projects, but with a focus on flooding. 319 plans are intended to focus on a complementary topic, water quality, which includes details about what current conditions of the waterways, major sources of pollutant loadings, and what projects are needed to restore and protect water quality.

We laid out a 2-year project plan, with a commitment to complete two plans in each year. We gathered and analyzed existing information, talked with watershed stakeholders about water quality conditions and water quality goals, and developed water quality assessments. Guess what? We found that the most significant source of pollutant loadings is stormwater. When it rains, the rainwater washes off streets and parking lots and other surfaces, scoops up pollutants, and then carries them to nearby creeks and rivers. Among the pollutant of concern are sediment, nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), bacteria, and chlorides (from road salt).

After assessing water quality, we identified the types of projects that would help reduce pollutant loadings. Green infrastructure practices such as rain gardens, bioswales and permeable pavement are prominent examples of practices that help improve water quality since they reduce discharge volumes and trap pollutants. We then identified a target level of implementation for stormwater management practices, and quantified the pollutant loading reductions that would be achieved. The implementation time period is 25 years, a reflection of the magnitude of the problem across the watersheds and the costs.

The first two plans—for the Little Calumet River and Cal-Sag Channel watersheds—were completed and approved by IEPA in December 2017, with the second two plans—Poplar Creek Watershed and the Des Plaines River (within Cook County)—being completed and approved at the end of 2018.

We also want to point out that while MPC was leading work on these four watersheds, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), working with The Conservation Foundation and DuPage County Stormwater, developed a watershed plan for the Lower Salt Creek watershed. CMAP itself has been a regional force for good on stormwater management and watershed planning for some time, and many of its guidelines and best practices were cited and employed for these projects.

How to Apply for Grant Funding:

So what is the offshoot of all this work? Now communities and NGO organizations in these watersheds can apply for a 319 grant for infrastructure projects to help manage stormwater. Note: 319 grant funds cannot be used for “grey” infrastructure such as new storm sewers, however these grant funds can be used for various types of projects to capture runoff (like green infrastructure), as well as projects that restore degraded stream corridors.

IEPA accepts applications for 319 grants every year, with the application materials due August 1st. If you would like to know a little more about the 319 program, you can visit the website here. The approved watershed plans are posted on our Publications Page and as well as on the MWRD website.

For more information on how apply go to: https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/water-quality/watershed-management/nonpoint-sources/Pages/grants.aspx.

MPC is grateful to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for funding this project, in part, through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. We also want to thank MWRD, CBBEL, our Peer Review Committee, the CSC members, and all the watershed stakeholders who were instrumental in assisting with this effort. We could not have brought these planning projects to a successful conclusion without their expert information, ideas and analyses. Thank you!

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  1. Sincerest Thanks and Best of Luck, Sarah!

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