Summary of my presentation from Chicago Wilderness Wild Things Conference on Feb. 2, 2013

Many of us still think of  water or run-off from rain fall, snow melt or irrigation as something we want to remove from our properties as quickly as possible, with little thought about where it goes and  its impact on one of most our precious resource – water.   This run-off not only flows onto neighboring properties, but eventually enters our storm drains, drainage swales or other other storm water conveyance channels, which then empty into our waterways.  This creates several problems, including water pollution, erosion, and flooding to name a few.  These problems are not only harmful to wildlife and their habitats,  but humans too.  These problems not only have a local impact, but a global impact since our run-off will eventually make its way into the Mississippi River, then the Gulf and then our oceans, affecting many humans and wildlife along the way.T reating water as a waste product impacts our drinking water, recreation (swimming, boating, fishing,..), our water supply, and our wallets – most of these problems are very expensive to resolve and manage.   So it’s better to try to prevent these problems by treating water as a precious resource instead.

Heron eating a fish water is a precious resource

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
―Wendell Berry

Here are some high level ideas and suggestions to help you get started.

  1. Infiltrate, infiltrate, infiltrate – soaking up water into the ground, instead of allowing it to run off.  This reduces flooding, erosion and pollution, and recharges our ground water supply. Some suggestions for infiltration are:
    • Create Rain Gardens
    • Install Buffer Strips if you leave near a waterway, including a wetland or drainage area.  A buffer strip is a planted area intercepting run-off and reducing erosion from your property before it reaches the waterway.
    • Less lawn and more native plants.  Native planting (especially native prairie plants) will infiltrate more water and provide more habitat for wildlife. Lawns only soak in ~15% of water, it’s almost impervious!
    • Develop a plan to handle all or most of your run-off with infiltration for existing areas,  new additions on your property or any new development.   Solutions can include : less impervious surfaces, green roofs, permeable pavers,  gravel or mulched paths, bioswales, rain gardens, more native plants and less lawns, rain water harvesting, to name just a few . Be creative!
  2. Conserving water – especially important during a drought.   Many native plants can take our weather extremes (both drought and wet weather).  Allow established native perennials to go dormant during severe drought and heat.  Water  new plants only when necessary, water deeply,  in the  mornings or evenings, and use water saving irrigation systems.  Allow lawns to go dormant during drought or dry summer periods.
  3. Preventing pollution  – Be very careful when using products that may enter our storm drains,  drainage areas or waterways, neighboring properties or be absorbed into the ground.   Do not dump or rake grass clippings, leaves and other landscape waste down our storm drains or into our waterways.  Trash, dog poop, and car leaks (gas and oil) are common outdoor pollutants.  Please recycle, compost and dispose of hazardous waste properly (including pharmaceutical drugs).  Landscaping products (especially fertilizers and pesticides) , detergents, de-icing salts  and coal-tar sealants are pollutants in our waterways. Here is more information about de-icing salts, coal tar sealants, and hazardous waste.
  4. Harvest water – Capture water with rain barrels or other water harvesting products and use this instead for irrigation, water features such as ponds or fountains, or to supply clean water for wildlife, especially during times of drought.
  5. Participate in or organize a river cleanup, pick up garbage (even if it’s not your own),  report problems illegal dumping into storm drains, and educate others.  The Conservation Foundation has a river cleanup in DuPage every May.  I am the coordinator for McDowell  Woods cleanup,  if you’d like to participate!
  6. Help protect open space. Open space reduces storm water problems since more water can be infiltrated, can provide more wildlife habitat, and cost less in taxes since less infrastructure and services are needed.   Read more about this in the Guide to Preserving the Fox River.

Even if you carry out just some of these ideas, cumulatively it would make a big difference, not only to our waterways but our pocket books too. Good-Natured Landscapes can help you! We can no longer take our water for granted – it is a precious, finite resource. Feel free to  share these  suggestions  with other  property owners.  If you have  other ideas or suggestions for treating water as a precious resource, please enter  in the comments below.  Thank you!

Additional Resources: Center for Neighborhood Technology Rain Ready