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

Reverse auction in Valparaiso, Ind. helps reduce neighborhood flooding

Rain gardens reduce the amount of stormwater that flows into municipal sewer systems.

By Kara Riggio, photo by CardnoJFNew

Green and grey: A winning combination

Name your price. That’s what Duane and Frieda Davison did to have a rain garden constructed at their Valparaiso, Ind., home last fall. The Davisons, along with 56 other families in the Memorial neighborhood, participated in the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) program, which asked residents how much they would be willing to pay to have a rain barrel or rain garden professionally installed on their properties. Those with the highest “bids” received additional funding to cover the remainder of the cost, complements of this publicly and privately funded grant program. Families like the Davisons, who were already interested in making green improvements to their property, jumped at the opportunity. “We were interested in greening our home inside and out,” Duane recalls. “Drainage was on our list, and this program came at a coincidental time.”

Like many U.S. communities built before the 1950s in the Northeast, Great Lakes region, and the Pacific Northwest, Valparaiso was built with a combined sewer system, which collects both sanitary waste (from toilets, sink drains, etc.) and stormwater runoff (rain that falls on pavement, roofs, etc.). When it rains, the first inch or so picks up salts, oils, fertilizers and other contaminants that have accumulated on roadways, sidewalks, roofs and other non-permeable pavement. The combined sewer system carries the mixture down to the Valparaiso Wastewater Treatment Plant before it is released into a local waterway. When large amounts of rain fall in short periods of time, the sewage being directed to the wastewater treatment plant may exceed the plant’s capacity, and the community may experience combined sewer overflows, which release this noxious mix into area waterways without any treatment. The city has been working on separating storm sewer from sanitary sewer for several years to reduce and eventually eliminate combined sewer overflow events; however, a large portion of the city is still served by the combined system, and combined sewer overflows still happen every year.

Rain barrels, rain gardens, and other types of green infrastructure, such as green roofs and permeable paving, complement “hard” infrastructure, such as pipes and sewer drains. Both types of infrastructure collect stormwater: hard infrastructure delivers it to the sewer system, and green infrastructure allows it to recharge underground water tables or sends it into a natural detention area, such as a pond, so it can be put to good use. Either way, by reducing the amount and slowing the speed of stormwater entering the sewer system when it rains, green infrastructure helps communities manage flooding.  

Read the full story to find out how residents took advantage of nearly $75,000 in grant money to install rain barrels and green roofs.

Conservation Tips

  • Save your rainwater.  Disconnect your downspout and connect it to a rain barrel. Use this water for watering plants, grass or washing your car.
  • Use a rain garden. Construct a rain garden and incorporate native plants. Rain gardens will help to manage storm water on your property and enhance the beauty of your property.
  • Make your property rain friendly.  Look for opportunities to remove impervious surfaces and allow rainwater to naturally percolate into the ground.
  • Get your neighbors involved. Green infrastructure works best when applied across neighborhoods. When your neighbors stop to admire your new rain garden, talk to them about constructing their own!


To learn more about programs in Chicagoland that help are available to help with stormwater management, check out these resources:

March 2012

Illinois American Water (lead sponsor)

Upcoming events

Mar 13 Spring public workshop for the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor grant program 7:00 PM–9:00 PM

More events »

The WOWW Factor


10% of the families in the Memorial neighborhood in Valparaiso, Indiana participated in the grant program.


60 rain barrels were installed.


11 rain gardens were awarded for construction.


$374,878 total grant money allocated for the green infrastructure.


380,000 estimated gallons of run-off will be prevented from entering the combined sewer system per year.

Become a fan on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

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

To subscribe, visit our website at chicagolandh2o.org.