by Laura Miller Hill, St. Charles Natural Resources Commissioner
When it rains, paved surfaces, like streets and sidewalks, prevent rainwater from naturally soaking into the ground. The old adage “water will find its level” holds true during storms as water runs off roofs and down driveways making its way through city streets and into storm sewers or ditches. On its way, this rainwater, or stormwater runoff, picks up whatever debris or contaminants are in its path. Commonly used household chemicals such as fertilizer, pesticides, engine oil, as well as dirt, bacteria, and other pollutants, are carried into storm drains and ditches ending up in streams, rivers, lakes, and finally the ocean.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, polluted stormwater runoff is one of the greatest threats to clean water in the United States. We can reduce contaminated stormwater from reaching waterways by keeping rain closer to where it falls. Rain gardens and rain barrels do just that. A rain garden is a shallow depression planted with a variety of deep-rooted water-loving flowers, shrubs, and grasses that work to absorb rainwater. A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Taking small actions like building your own rain garden or setting up a rain barrel not only helps prevent water pollution, but can also reduce flooding by slowing down the flow of water that goes into the stormwater system.
The Conservation Foundation is one of our region’s oldest and largest not-for-organizations dedicated to preserving and restoring open space, protecting rivers and watersheds, and promoting environmental stewardship in northeastern Illinois. The Conservation @ Home program is a great resource for homeowners who want to keep rainwater in their own yard. The Conservation Foundation provides information for homeowners to build their own rain gardens.