Here is a summary of my presentation from Chicago Wilderness Wild Things Conference on February 2, 2013

Many of us think of  run-off from rain fall, snow melt or irrigation from our properties as a waste product, something we want to remove as quickly as possible. We don’t think about where the run-off goes and the problems caused by treating water as a waste product.

Our property’s run-off not only flows onto neighboring properties, but into storm drains, drainage swales, or other water conveyance channels. Eventually this run-off enters our rivers, lakes and streams, then the ocean. Yes, ocean!  Most of Illinois’ waterways are interconnected and  eventually flow into the Mississippi River, which flows into the Gulf Of Mexico, then the ocean.

Your run-off and the cumulative run-off from all properties creates several major problems, including water pollution, erosion,  flooding, and ground water supply depletion, to name a few.  These problems harm our drinking water,  health, recreation (swimming, boating, fishing,..), food, water supply,  land, soil, and wallets. Water problems are very expensive to fix. These problems  are also very detrimental to wildlife habitat (food, shelter, nesting areas, drinking water). So it’s easier and much more beneficial to prevent these problems from occurring by treating water as a precious resource instead. 

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
―Wendell Berry
(This photo is a view down my driveway after the area’s 1996 flood when 17 inches of rainfall fell in less than 24 hours.)

Here are some high level ideas and suggestions for treating water as a precious resource instead of waste product. 

  1. Infiltrate, infiltrate, infiltrate – soaking up water into the ground, instead of allowing it to run off. Some suggestions for infiltration are:
    • Create rain gardens.
      I installed my first of many rain gardens in 2004 . If you’d like to learn more, please contact me about a rain garden program under my “SERVICES” page.
    • Install Buffer Strips  especially if you leave near a waterway, including a wetland or drainage area.
    • Reduce your lawn area and add more native plants.  Lawns soak up very little run-off.
    • Develop a plan to handle all or most of your run-off from your property , especially if you are building a new home or adding on to one.
    •  Other solutions include :  Reducing/removing impervious surfaces. Adding a green roof, permeable pavers,  gravel or mulched paths, bioswales. Be creative!
  2. Conserve water – especially important during a drought. Water  new  native plants only when establishing, water deeply,  in the  mornings or evenings, and use water saving irrigation systems.  Allow lawns to go dormant during droughts or dry summer periods.
  3. Prevent pollution  – Be careful when using products or disposing of waste that may enter our storm drains,  drainage areas, nearby waterways, neighboring properties,  or  absorb into the ground.  This include landscape waste (leaves, grass clippings, brush) .  Also, trash, dog poop, and car leaks (gas and oil) . Even landscaping products (especially fertilizers and pesticides) , detergents, de-icing salts  and coal-tar driveway sealants are water pollutants.
  4. Harvest water – Capture water with rain barrels or other water harvesting products and use the captured water for irrigation or water features such as ponds or fountains.
  5. Participate in or organize a river cleanup, pick up garbage (even if it’s not your own),  report  illegal dumping  and educate others.  The Conservation Foundation has a river cleanup workday.  
  6. Protect open space. Open space (undeveloped natural areas, especially wetlands) reduces the problems associated with run-off,  benefits our waterways in many ways and saves us money!

If each one of us implements just one or two of these ideas, cumulatively it would make a huge positive difference to planet Earth and all its inhabitants. Water connects us all!  

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