WATER Project Engages Community in Managing Stormwater

Nelson Institute Water Resources Management students help plant a residential rain garden in an area experiencing flooding. (Photo: Emma Wenman)

Nelson Institute Water Resources Management students help plant a residential rain garden in an area experiencing flooding. (Photo: Emma Wenman)

The Arboretum has been hard at work piloting the Water Action to Encourage Responsibility (WATER) Project for stormwater outreach. This two-year initiative aims to provide a model for how to connect with and empower community members to address an environmental issue where they live.

The Arboretum and the larger Lake Wingra watershed have long experienced the impact of stormwater due to urban development, an increase in pollutants, and changing precipitation patterns because of climate change. An alarming example for those of us in the Lake Wingra watershed and beyond came during the 2018 flooding in Madison and surrounding communities.

The Arboretum lies at the bottom of the Lake Wingra watershed and receives millions of gallons of stormwater every year from the surrounding area – water that eventually flows into Lake Wingra. Recognizing the need to build connections and work with neighbors on stormwater issues, the Arboretum developed the WATER Project, which is supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Rain garden planted as part of WATER Project outreach. (Photo: Emma Wenman)

The main components of the WATER project are the EmpowerU stormwater outreach trainings and small grants (subawards) given to local nonprofits to help them implement stormwater mitigation projects. The EmpowerU training teaches participants about stormwater in the Madison area, how to identify people who can help influence community change, how to tailor messaging to different audiences, and how to communicate effectively and persuasively to encourage action. Participants leave these trainings feeling connected to others who care about stormwater issues and empowered to advocate for healthy water through community action.

Five local nonprofits received funding to support their stormwater work: 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association (DMNA), Friends of the Arboretum (FOA), Friends of Lake Wingra (FoLW), and In Pursuit of Sunshine (IPOS), a Madison West High School student group.

Tray of native plants for a rain garden (Photo: Emma Wenman)

1000 Friends worked with Leopold Elementary School to restore a rain garden on the school grounds. DMNA worked with the City of Madison and Wingra School to install a large rain garden to address acute flooding issues on school grounds. DMNA will also host the Lake Wingra Watershed Gathering on May 21 at Vilas Park. FOA hired a consultant to help install rain gardens for five local residents and nonprofits. FoLW is working with Westmorland neighborhood homeowners to learn about and install green infrastructure. And IPOS planted two rain gardens in the Burr Oaks neighborhood and provided additional rain garden plants and information to neighboring communities. We have been honored to work with these groups as they champion effective stormwater management in local communities.

If you want to get involved, check out the WATER Project stormwater action toolkit, which provides at-home actions you can take during any season of the year. You can help spread the word by sharing these actions with friends and neighbors. And you can learn more about Water Project resources and people involved in these projects. There are many ways to get involved with our partner organizations.

—Alli Wenman, WATER Project outreach coordinator