Walking the Green Path: A Little Water Goes a Long Way
While much of April seemed to toss white stuff at me, I was happy to walk out into a few drops of rain at times too. But without a winter of big snow cover, the ground will be thirsty, the lakes will be thirsty, the wetlands will be thirsty.
On the happier side, not having a long frozen winter meant the early rains didn’t just runoff into streams and rivers and create flooding, but had a chance to soak into the ground a bit. Still, I’m thinking that the young boulevard trees replacing the ash we’ve lost will need some supplementing this spring to get their roots some happy moisture for the summer ahead.
Living in an urban area, we may not realize how much ground water we lose to runoff and diversion into the Mississippi River. With most of our constructed land set up as impervious surfaces (no way for water to soak into the ground), rain that falls doesn’t soak into the ground to water our plants or trees, it just heads for a storm sewer and finds its way to the river and off it goes downstream.
Two challenges arise from this. One is that much of that runoff carries pollution and sediment that damages the Mississippi River, the other is that we’re forced to use our very limited clean drinking water to water plants and trees. This continues to put extra pressure on the wastewater treatment systems to keep providing us with clean drinking water.
So, it was helpful for me, as a businessperson, to reconnect with a staff person from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) to remind us of some pretty easy ways to take off some of that pressure. After all, restaurants are pretty big water users, so I should be doing what I can to give back in some way. Some of these, I’ve already tried to put to use, and with some modifications can improve what I’m doing. Some of the other ideas, I’m looking to build into this year’s efforts to be a better “outdoor” business site.
The site of my restaurant was designed to capture some rainwater from sidewalks and the roof and direct it to rain gardens. I’ve found that the actual gardens though could use a bit of love to be able to handle large amounts of rain, so I’m looking to replant areas with plants that are better suited to handling the water that is collected. There are other areas though where small rain gardens (mostly along the boulevards) would be useful to capture and filter runoff water.
It is the runoff water that is most challenging to rivers since it carries pollutants, garbage, and sediment directly to the river. Finding ways to capture and filter this (plants do a good job) runoff is part of smart landscaping design these days. Let us hope it just becomes the norm for all construction related activity in the years to come.
The sod on my boulevard never made it after the road construction, so that area is basically a solid surface where rain just runs into the street. I will be planting native grasses there this year whose roots will grow deep and strong and be able to soak up and hold on to the runoff from the sidewalks. These grasses are tough and resilient and will help me capture a lot of water and return it to the groundwater.
We’re also planning to get a rain barrel or two for collecting rain for use in dryer times. This is one way of taking a little pressure off the need to use fresh drinking water for irrigation purposes.
And while the next predicted snowfall is a long way off, I’m starting now with my efforts to be certain that a policy of “no-salt for sidewalks” gets put in place for my building to help keep salt out of the Mississippi River, where it damages plant and aquatic life.
I’m also looking to publicize an effort to have all of our residents and business owners commit to adopting their curbs. Sort of like the “adopt a roadway” plan, it’s important to keep street curbs free of debris (whether plant or garbage or pet waste) since, during any rain event, that debris is headed for the river. So, with an eye toward a blooming boulevard and a clean curbside, it’s easy to see that it doesn’t take much to help our Mississippi River stay healthy as it runs through this very urban environment we call home.
The green path leads to the water. Care for it and we’ll all benefit from its beauty and gifts it provides for us. See you at the curbside!
Photo by Mark Hinds