Scouts and volunteers planting a rain garden at Thoreau Elementary School

Scouts and volunteers planting a rain garden at Thoreau Elementary School to reduce erosion from runoff. Photo: David H Thompson

Water Action to Encourage Responsibility

The Arboretum lies near the low point of the Lake Wingra watershed and receives millions of gallons of stormwater each year from surrounding neighborhoods and commercial areas. Stormwater flows over roofs, roads, sidewalks, construction sites, and compacted lawns. Along the way, pollutants, excess nutrients, and sediment are picked up and can be carried along as the water courses through Arboretum wetlands and drainage channels, ultimately feeding into Lake Wingra or Wingra Creek.

To reduce the harmful effects of urban stormwater and improve watershed health, the Arboretum has embarked on the WATER Project, a partner collaboration designed to facilitate community engagement in stormwater issues and demonstrate how neighborhood-focused efforts and actions can make a difference across local watersheds.

The initial phase of the WATER Project (2021–22) was supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The current phase (2023–24) is supported by a Wisconsin Idea Collaboration Grant.

If you are interested in learning more or becoming an ambassador for clean water in your community, you can:

  • Learn more about local issues, organizations, and people on the Resources page.
  • Explore the Stormwater Outreach Toolkit for ways you can engage friends, family, neighbors and fellow community members and promote specific actions to reduce stormwater impacts to local rivers and lakes.
  • Attend a future training to become a clean water ambassador. Contact Anne Pearce for more information and to be notified when a training is available.

2023–24 Project Partners

In the current phase of the WATER Project, the Arboretum is working with Wisconsin EcoLatinos and Water Action Volunteers to recruit, train, and support community members interested in learning about and taking action on issues related to stormwater and water quality.

Wisconsin EcoLatinos is a non-profit organization working to raise equity and participation in environmental quality and conservation by empowering the Latino community and minorities to take action against environmental hazards affecting our community.

Water Action Volunteers (WAV) is volunteer stream monitoring program that is an ongoing partnership between UW–Madison Division of Extension, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and nearly fifty local partner groups and organizations. WAV empowers volunteers to take ownership of their local waterways through protection and improvement efforts based on hands-on learning, data collection, and data reporting.

2021–22 Community Partners

As part of the Environmental Protection Agency grant, the Arboretum called for proposals and selected community partners to receive subawards for stormwater outreach and education projects in their communities. Members or these organizations will go through an EmpowerU training to become clean water ambassadors in their communities.

1000 Friends of Wisconsin and Leopold Elementary School

Install green infrastructure at Leopold Elementary School to address runoff issues in the schoolyard and provide education related to the project.

Catholic Multicultural Center

Install native plantings in key areas around the building to increase storm water infiltration and address areas of soil erosion.

Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association

Install model rain gardens at Dudgeon Park and provide water stewardship activities in partnership with Wingra School and other organizations.

Friends of the Arboretum

Provide rain garden kits and consulting for residents and local organizations.

Friends of Lake Wingra

Provide financial assistance to Westmorland homeowners who want to install green infrastructure on their property.

Owen Conservation Park

Restore a rain garden study site. The study site highlights rain gardens as stormwater management tools by comparing an area of turf grass with an area of mixed native plants.

West High School, In Pursuit of Sunshine student organization

Install two community rain gardens in the Burr Oaks neighborhood and provide rain garden kits and education to homeowners and businesses in the surrounding community.