By Chao Yan
New federal grants will support green infrastructure projects such as rain gardens in Great Lakes shoreline communities as part of efforts to improve water quality. The grants totaling $2,045,858 are also going to communities in Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana for other work, including bio-retention cells and wetlands protection.
Green infrastructure supplements conventional drainage and water treatment systems — dubbed “grey infrastructure.”– by storing and filtering untreated stormwater runoff, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The projects help to beautify the communities,” said John Martin, an EPA press officer in New York.
“The purpose of these grants is to help communities implement green infrastructure so they are not relying on grey infrastructure and they can find other ways—more cost-effective ways—to improve water quality,” Martin said. “We are hopeful that these projects will be one piece of the puzzles that helps to improve the water issues on the Great Lakes.”
Grants totaling $580,125 are going to Evans, New York; Sandusky, Ohio; Duluth, Minnesota and Algoma, Wisconsin, include funding for rain gardens.
Rain gardens contain flowering plants and grasses that can survive in soil soaked with water from rainstorms. They slow and collect stormwater runoff and increase its infiltration into the soil rather than discharging water directly into creeks and lakes, according to lakesuperiortreams.org.
Evans plans to install two rain gardens in Town Park, which offers recreation, including swimming and beach activities along the shore of Lake Erie.
In 2014, the Evans Town Park Beach closed for 31 of the 66 days of the beach season due to water pollution.
“I’m hoping the rain garden catches the runoff from all the automobile traffic and parking lots to filter out the oil, the impurities and any bacteria that run to the creek next to our sewerage area,” said Patrick Conrad, the assistant manager of the town park project.
It will be the first rain garden in Evans, and the town is planning to build more. The project is in the bidding and design phase. “We won’t put shovel on the ground until next spring,” Conrad said.
The project in Algoma started on June 1 aiming at reducing the discharge of untreated stormwater runoff into Lake Michigan by installing rain gardens and infiltration basins in Crescent Beach.
The beach failed to meet recreational water standards nine times in a year, primarily due to stormwater and algae accumulating near the breakwater, according to a study by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,
According to the project proposal, the city council will provide funds annually for green infrastructure after the grant period. The city will employ part-time seasonal staff to assist with maintaining native plants in the gardens and at the beach.
Sandusky, on the southern shore of Lake Erie between Cleveland and Toledo, is at the mouth of Sandusky Bay, which drains 1,828 square miles, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Approval of Sandusky’s design and contractor started in July, and the completed project is expected to reduce runoff by 283,910 gallons of stormwater annually. Six rain gardens will be built in Lions Park, which has the city’s only public beach that allows swimming in Sandusky Bay.
According to the project proposal, untreated runoff from parking lots in the park goes directly into the bay. Under the plan, the new rain gardens will connect with an underground outlet and soil and plants will filter nutrients from the water before it gets into the drainage system.
“What we have to make sure is that we design the rain gardens with the appropriate vegetation,” said city public works Director Aaron Klein, who is responsible for the project. “We has been implementing another rain garden in the parking lot in downtown Sandusky, and we are using the same vegetation here in Lions Park to make sure we know how to exactly maintain it.”
In addition, Lions Park is an important stopping point for migratory birds, including Canada geese, crossing Lake Erie. “We get a lot of them,” Klein said. “That’s one big thing that we have to clean off on a daily basis.”
The rain gardens are intended to reduce bacteria levels to minimize the negative impacts of birds’ fecal matter in the lake, Klein said.
The Duluth grant is to install three large rain gardens in Park Point.
Park Point forms a part of the Great Lakes Area of Concern and parts of the longest freshwater sandbar in the world. It’s the overlap between Lake Superior’s natural ecosystems and Duluth’s urban industrial waterfront, according to the Park Point Urban Impact Study.
“It has some landscapes including forest areas that feel very wild and remote, and, heavy development where homes are very close to each other,” said project manager Chris Kleist, talking about biodiversity of the site.
“The rain garden expects to bring back native flowers and plants that will stabilize sections of the shoreline, as well as providing habitat with shelter, food and nesting sites for pollinators,” he said.
The projects include other components such as trenches and meadows to enhance water quality and beach safety.
Conrad, from Evans, said, “The green and grey infrastructure have to do it in combination. We need to clean sewer discharge and our creek, and to deal with all this stuff already in lake.
“Rain gardens can only catch a certain percentage of it, but it’s going to be the first step,” he said.
The EPA awarded other 2016 shoreline cities grants to East Chicago, Indiana; Ashtabula, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Huron, Ohio; Vermillion, Ohio; Ashland, Wisconsin; Manitowoc, Wisconsin; Two Rivers, Wisconsin; and Wind Point, Wisconsin.