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. A waste product. We don’t think about where it goes and  the problems it causes, unless we are impacted directly. But we are impacted, we just don’t understand how. This run-off not only flows onto neighboring properties, but into storm drains, drainage swales, or other storm water conveyance channels. Eventually this run-off enters our rivers, lakes and streams, then the ocean. Yes, ocean!  Illinois waterways are interconnected and flow into the Mississippi River, which flows into the Gulf Of Mexico, then the ocean.

This creates several problems.  These problems harm wildlife, habitat and humans too.  Treating water as a waste product impacts our drinking water,  health, recreation (swimming, boating, fishing,..), food and water supply,  land and soil, and our wallets.  These problems are very expensive to resolve and manage.  So it’s better and cheaper 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  before it reaches a waterway.
    • Less lawn and more native plants.  Native plants (especially native prairie plants) infiltrate a lot more water than other plants, especially lawns.  Lawns only soak in ~15% of water, it’s almost impervious!
    • Develop a plan to handle all or most of your run-off.   Besides those listed above, other solutions include :  reduce or remove impervious surfaces,  add green roofs, permeable pavers,  gravel or mulched paths, bioswales,  rain water harvesting, to name just a few . Be creative!
  2. Conserving water – especially important during a drought.   Native plants, if sited correctly,  adapt to 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 establishing, 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  nearby waterways, neighboring properties,  or  absorb into the ground.   Do not dump or  landscape waste (leaves, grass clippings, brush) down 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 also pollutants.
  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. Protect open space. Open space reduces flooding problems since more water can be infiltrated, and cost less in taxes than developed property 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. Good-Natured Landscapes can help you! We can no longer take our water for granted – it is a precious, finite resource.  If you have  other ideas or suggestions for treating water as a precious resource, please share  in the comments below.   We all need to learn and do more. Thank you!

Additional Resources: Center for Neighborhood Technology Rain Ready

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