Feature Article: Getting Involved in Green Infrastructure

by Garret Hopkins, Rock River Coalition

Rock River Coalition spends countless hours meeting with people who want to help us protect water resources in the Rock River Basin. We lead trainings, host fundraisers, and organize restoration projects. We give presentations, form bonds, and answer questions. Almost always, at some point during an event, somebody asks: “What else can I do to help?” Our answer, in return, almost always involves green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure – a popular school of conservation that has been practiced by humans for thousands of years – involves outfitting land or buildings with a physical feature that serves a specific sustainability purpose. In the Basin (and throughout the Midwest), green infrastructure is most commonly used to address stormwater and agricultural runoff. Examples of green infrastructure in the Basin include vegetative filter strips and grassed waterways on farms, and pervious pavement and green roofs in urban areas.

In 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey released a study on the benefits of green infrastructure titled, “Green Infrastructure in the Great Lakes – Assessment of Performance, Barriers, and Unintended Consequences.” The 84-page document, which pulls from numerous published reports and studies from Great Lake states, outlines green infrastructure’s success in reducing the effects of stormwater and preventing contaminants from getting into local waterways.

Rock River Coalition is one of many organizations in the Basin working towards expanding green infrastructure. An example of this is the installation of native shoreland gardens (the Executive Residence shoreland restoration project and the Riverside Park Creek Native Plant Restoration project in Watertown). Rock River Coalition also leads workshops for a different type of green infrastructure: rain barrels.

Rain barrels are, as the name says, barrels that collect rainwater. More specifically, they are large barrels, typically between 50-100 gallons, that attach to the downspout of a building’s gutter. Rather than becoming stormwater, rainwater is collected in the barrel for later use.

Common uses of unfiltered rain barrel water include:

  • watering lawns or (non-edible) gardens
  • rinsing off lawn furniture, decks, or tools
  • washing exteriors of houses or cars

What can you expect if you attend a Rock River Coalition rain barrel workshop? For one, you can expect to leave with your very own rain barrel! Creating and installing a rain barrel must be done in a specific way. During the workshop, you’ll learn why rain barrels and other forms of green infrastructure are so important, you’ll have help creating your barrel, and you’ll be given detailed instructions on how to attach it to your downspout.

While rain barrels are not the most prevalent form of green infrastructure, they are one of the easiest to install. We strongly encourage anybody with a rain barrel to decorate it with bright colors and display it for neighbors and friends to see. They serve as a nice feature to your home and garden, and they are great conversation starters. The more people who learn about and develop a passion for green infrastructure, the better!

Visit our website at rockrivercoalition.org/events if you are interested in attending a Rock River Coalition rain barrel workshop.

Upcoming workshops include:

  • Beloit – April 6, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Beaver Dam – April 13, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Watertown – April 20, 9:30-11:30 a.m.