What Our Water's Worth is an ongoing campaign led by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands to raise awareness about the value of water in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana.

Rooftop garden makes rain a resource

Breanne Heath and Dave Vondle are growing their own food and reducing stormwater runoff by gardening on the roof of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Chicago.

Photo by Emily Cikanek

When Breanne Heath, an avid gardener, met Dave Vondle, she couldn’t help but fall in love – with his roof.

“He told me he bought a building, and I told him he had to put a green roof on it. And that’s why I decided to start dating him – because he had the space,” said Breanne with a wink and a smile.

Today the couple’s love has grown and so has their green roof, which sits atop the building that houses the Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. 

Both Breanne and Dave, who is a part-owner in the co-op, know fresh produce is just one benefit of their green roof. It helps insulate the building, lowering heating and air conditioning costs. Plus, all those plants soak up rain, which is one of the only free resources we truly enjoy, but which unfortunately all too often becomes a costly nuisance.

When rain cannot soak back into the earth – for example, when it falls on streets and parking lots, sidewalks and roofs, all of which fall under the category of “impervious surfaces” – the rain runs straight into the sewer. Once the sewer is full, no more water can go down the drain, and this causes flooding. 

The problem is even worse in places that combine their stormwater and sewage in the same pipes. During heavy storms, the rush of runoff overwhelms these systems, and facilities just can’t treat it fast enough. To prevent the sewage from backing up onto our streets and into our basements, facilities release millions of gallons of this waste into our rivers, and on occasion, back into Lake Michigan. These “combined sewer overflows” (CSOs) not only can cause fish kills and hurt other wildlife in our waterways – they can turn a precious asset into a huge liability: Rainwater that could recharge our water supplies ends up flooding our homes and businesses at great cost to local governments, utilities and, ultimately, taxpayers. In the Chicago area, water that we flush down our rivers also counts against what we are allotted to pull out of Lake Michigan.

It just makes more sense, and cents, to use all of that water for something – such as growing a garden. Read how Breanne and Dave are doing just that and learn more about ways you can put rain water to better use in this month's edition of What Our Water's Worth. >>

Conservation tips

Support Illinois’ Rainwater Harvesting bill. Ask your House representatives to support Illinois SB 38, which would allow developers and homeowners in Illinois to install systems for capturing rainwater for nonpotable uses. Find your representatives’ contact information here.

Make or buy a rain barrel. Watering your lawn and garden can account for as much as 40 percent of your home’s water consumption during the summer. Watch this video to learn how to make your own rain barrel, or Google your county’s name and “rain barrel program” to find low-cost rain barrel options near you.

Reduce stormwater runoff at home. Check out Center for Neighborhood Technology’s “Pocket Guide to Green Solutions” for more simple, low-cost ways you can alter your landscape and home to reduce stormwater runoff and make better use of rain.

May 2011

Illinois American Water (lead sponsor)

What Our Water's Worth is an ongoing campaign led by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands to raise awareness about the value of water in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. From Lake Michigan to the Fox River, how we use our water resources—including what we conserve, how much we waste, and what we choose to invest in water quality—is up to each of us. This is our water—and it's worth more than we know.

WOWW factors 

100 times dirtier

An average combined sewer overflow (CSO) contains 100 times more fecal coliform colonies than treated wastewater, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).


For a limited time starting in April, the City of Chicago Dept. of Environment is offering a rebate for purchasing a rain barrel. Download a rebate form and a list of local rain barrel purveyors from  the city’s web site. 

850 billion gallons

Amount of untreated water discharged by CSOs annually into our nation’s waterways, which people use for recreation and where fish and other wildlife call home. Water in CSOs is 15 to 20 percent sewage and 80 to 85 percent stormwater, according to NRDC.

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What Our Water's Worth is a monthly e-newsletter. Tell us what you think. Email info@chicagolandh2o.org with feedback in the subject.

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