Community Service Project Creates a Water Legacy

December 26, 2017

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Volunteers helped construct a bioswale and native garden as part of Manierre’s Sustainable Stormwater Project, the 10th annual Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Community Service Project. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Volunteers helped construct a bioswale and native garden as part of Manierre’s Sustainable Stormwater Project, the 10th annual Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Community Service Project. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

To create a vibrant and enduring example of a water legacy, more than 220 volunteers joined forces for the 10th annual Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Community Service Project on Sept. 30. Participants included members of the WEF Student and Young Professionals Committee (SYPC), event organizers, as well as additional volunteers from the WEF House of Delegates and Board of Trustees, according to Caroline Pakenham, then-association engagement manager of SYPC.

“This is all done by WEF students and young professionals and our partners … and it’s just amazing to see the community of people that come together to do this,” Pakenham said. “The fact that they are so passionate about doing this and put this much work into it is just absolutely incredible, and we can’t thank them enough.”

More than 220 volunteers pitched in to help construct green infrastructure that will reduce flooding at Manierre Elementary School (Chicago). Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

More than 220 volunteers pitched in to help construct green infrastructure that will reduce flooding at Manierre Elementary School (Chicago). Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

This year’s effort, Manierre’s Sustainable Stormwater Project, took place at Chicago’s Manierre Elementary School. Volunteers spent the day constructing a bioswale with native plants to control stormwater runoff as well as a permeable outdoor classroom area.

The existing asphalt playground experienced flooding issues, said project chair Anthony Giovannone. “They did some work on the drain to mitigate it, but we took it to the next level and we’re actually turning the impervious surface into a pervious one,” he said. “We have a native garden area that will retain some water. We also have an outdoor classroom with permeable pavers and a retention area underneath it, and also a bioswale.”

Giovannone said the committee begins planning the following year’s service project as the current WEFTEC® concludes. Project proposals solicited from the host city generate four or five potential sites. The committee then uses established criteria to select the project. Manierre Elementary was a compelling winner this year because of staff commitment and engagement, and because they had a water-related issue with a clear need, he said.

In addition to a bioswale and garden, participants created a permeable outdoor classroom area with an area for stormwater retention underneath. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

In addition to a bioswale and garden, participants created a permeable outdoor classroom area with an area for stormwater retention underneath. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Giovannone said he was amazed at the amount of support SYPC received for the project from sponsors, donors, and partners such as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the city’s Department of Water Management.

“It shocks me how willing they are to participate,” he said.

A  maintenance fund supports follow-up to assist in caring for the site after projects are complete, Giovannone said.

In a coordinated water education effort, the day prior to the project volunteers hosted the Water Palooza event at the school. During the event, groups of students traveled between stations featuring hands-on lessons about the value of water and the local water environment. The event teaches students about several specific areas of the water quality sector, Giovannone said. The service project reinforces those concepts. For more information about the Water Palooza, read the Highlights article “Cultivating the New Generation of Water Stewards at the Water Palooza.”

“I think it’s our water legacy as students and young professionals to inspire the next generation of water quality professionals,” Giovannone said. He highlighted three ongoing goals for the project:

  • to impact the community and do something that benefits their water environment;
  • to create community awareness of the value of water; and
  • to serve as inspiration.

Volunteer Maria Reed was involved in the project’s planning and was instrumental in plant selection for the bioswale endeavor. “I understood this was a big project, but not until I got here did I understand the dimension of it, the impact it’s going to have on the students,” she said. Because the students will have a role in maintaining the gardens, she added, “it has aspects of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] for students to see if they like it and if this is something they could pursue in the future.”

WEF leaders and members as well as volunteers from other organizations who helped during Manierre’s Sustainable Stormwater Project gather for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

WEF leaders and members as well as volunteers from other organizations who helped during Manierre’s Sustainable Stormwater Project gather for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, 2016-2017 WEF president Rick Warner echoed that concept. “The project that we’re sitting right next to here is not only beautiful, but it’s going to hopefully inspire young professionals and young students about environmental stewardship in a place to learn and grow their minds,” he said, “much like these beautiful plants and flowers are going to grow as well.”

Gail Gourley, WEF Highlights

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