"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”  

Jane Jacobs

Life as a Water Steward in Training

For the past six months I have been attending Tuesday night classes to learn about water. Organized by the Freshwater Society, the coursework is designed to equip each new wave of students with the tools and skills necessary to create positive change in their neighborhoods. We began with the basics, starting with the water cycle, moving into more advanced ideas of hydrology and the treatment train. All the learning and exploring physical installations will culminate in a final capstone project at the end of the summer at which point I can officially call myself a Master Water Steward.

This title comes with responsibility. My journey as a Master Water Steward just begins when I complete the capstone project. I will volunteer at booths and events to raise awareness and use funding from my watershed management organization to do more great projects. My first project (the capstone) will likely be two rain garden installations with some careful diversion of water away from my house into one garden via an underground pipe and the other will solve the flooding I'm sending my neighbors way each time we have a heavy rain by infiltrating water on site.

Preliminary sketches of the rain garden (RG) installations in my backyard

Preliminary sketches of the rain garden (RG) installations in my backyard

A rain garden has multiple benefits including diverting water from the storm sewer system, capturing and slowing the flow, infiltrating it into the ground, providing overflow for excess water, and transpiration through plants. Before you jump to the conclusion that all that water in the garden will draw mosquitoes, it wont. Rain gardens infiltrate water within one day which is not enough time for mosquito eggs to hatch (it takes almost three days). In Burnsville, Minnesota they installed numerous rain garden and were able to capture 83 percent more water after just one year of the installation. This kept extra contaminants and pollutants out of nearby Crystal Lake. The number shot up to 93 percent after three years.

Rain gardens are just one of many options within the treatment train to mitigate excessive water. The treatment train is a series of installations that work together to limit the water runoff from a property. Parts of the treatment train can include bioretention ponds, swales, rain gardens, rain barrels, tree trenches, dry riverbeds, and pervious pavement. 

Infiltration basin located in the islands of a church parking lot

Infiltration basin located in the islands of a church parking lot

It is my goal as a Master Water Steward to overcome barriers and create behavior change in my community. Many barriers exist including lack of motivation, lack of information, limited skills, and external barriers. I want to motivate everyone to act in a positive way that protects the watershed they live in. If everyone starts with one small change, we can really make a huge impact on our lakes, rivers, and streams which are become more polluted each year. Small changes add up over time. Just by picking up trash out in front of your house or sweeping up your leaves, you are keeping that much more waste out of the stormwater system.

Storm drain on my street collecting leaves and other debris

Storm drain on my street collecting leaves and other debris

So my challenge to you is to think about your water footprint. What can you do to reduce your impact on local lakes and rivers? Some simple ideas to start are raking your leaves and grass clippings to keep them from entering the storm sewer, pick up garbage that you see in the streets, put less salt down in the winter, fertilize only the minimum necessary, and plant more native plants. Every little bit helps.