Outside your door lie carpets of concrete. Water can’t sink below driveways and streets to return to the water cycle, and instead it pools and floods over curbs and sidewalks. We can’t roll up the roads nor can we force water to flow the way we want it to. Well, we can tear up the roads and infrastructure, but it would be at a great expense of time and money. Freak storms from climate change means that the storm water system is quickly over-burdened from the might of an unlikely 100-year storm.
But to every problem there is a solution, and the solutions get pretty creative when it comes to collaborating with a colleague like Nature. A new way of developing is coming to municipalities, businesses, and neighbourhoods, and it’s called Low Impact Development (LID).
Low Impact Development is the practice of using alternative technologies and methods to manage storm water. Small projects like disconnecting downspouts and installing rain barrels, and bigger projects, like putting in a rain garden, soakaway pit or a permeable driveway are all examples of LID. It manages rain at the source, and manages ecological and hydrological function by working with nature.
To reach the public in Halton and educate them on LID, Conservation Halton has been hosting free homeowner workshops for the past three years. The first two years were only in Milton, but for 2016, and in partnership with Cootes to Escarpment, we were able to expand our reach and we held workshops in Burlington and Waterdown. Between Milton, Burlington, and Waterdown, over 300 people attended the workshops in total. Speakers include ecologists, engineers, and landscapers to teach local homeowners about native plants, rain gardens, and other projects homeowners can do by themselves.
That’s how Carmen Martino and her husband Silvester Sedivy, locals of Halton Region, found us: through the Healthy Neighboursheds workshops in Milton. She saw the ad in the Milton Champion a few years ago. The Healthy Neighbourshed workshops were what led them to learn more about LID. When they first signed up for the Healthy Neighbourshed workshops, water conservation was not their primary concern. However, their biggest takeaway from the workshops was learning about the watershed, and the different methods they could use to become better stewards in their neighborhood. Since the workshops, Carmen and Silvester have installed two rain barrels, and are transitioning their garden to native plants. They also put up a “bee house” to provide accessible shelter for the bees, and it’s beside their pesticide-free vegetable garden. This year they have a new pollinator garden: the seedlings came from the Garden-in-a-Box program through Conservation Halton this past spring, and the flowers are already growing in. They have seen a noticeable increase in the number of bees and butterflies that visit their garden, and they’ve observed a hummingbird.
View the gallery to see pictures of their projects.
When asked how the workshops influenced their view about water stewardship and conservation, Carmen responded “we are becoming increasingly concerned about how much water is needed to keep the lawn healthy, especially for over-seeding, even with conscious efforts to purchase “water saver lawn seeds” and trying to schedule the over-seeding when the forecast calls for rain. It’s becoming counterproductive to our conservation efforts”. She and her husband have more project ideas that they want to put into place, such as converting part of their front lawn into a rain garden, adding more rain barrels, and replacing their asphalt driveway with a permeable one.
Its grassroots efforts like the Healthy Neighbourshed workshops that can reach landowners. The workshops personalize LID practices to show residents how conservation can not only conserve water, but also produce a beautiful and thriving garden. Although the numbers of people reached are small to start, engaged citizens buoyed by their effort become champions of conservation. When asked on how she’d like to see LID expand in her community and in Halton Region, Carmen replied “I’d like to see more done on town property. Developers should be mandated to implement more LID solutions, such as including permeable driveways, and permeability to other areas, to reduce run-off. We’d also like to see more native plant landscaping to bring back the habitats that are destroyed through development”.
Our neighbouring conservation authority, Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), works collaboratively with municipal partners, businesses and homeowners to implement, monitor, and educate about LID. CVC starts by creating a plan for a demonstration project, for example permeable driveways for IMAX’s head office in Mississauga. They then put the plan in motion to get the project in the ground. Julie McManus, Corporate Services Assistant with Watershed Management, says “demonstration sites are the best way to get buy-in for acceptance of practices”. As such, in the ground projects are a key selling point for future projects.
After the project is finished, monitoring is conducted to gauge the success of the work. Monitoring focuses on verifying construction, performance, and proper operation and maintenance. Performance monitoring for larger projects involves environmental monitoring, inspections including photo and video logs, interviews, and lifecycle cost collection. CVC recently has just collected enough data to create its first reports on projects constructed two to three years ago. This information can be used to improve future projects and inform policy development and asset management plans for cities and regions. Monitoring gives CVC and its partners the tools to form best practices for future projects.
The successful results are then cycled back to all departments at CVC to entice cities, towns, corporations, and residents to use LID practices. CVC is also trying to branch out to different scaled projects for varying land uses like parks, schools, roads, residential properties such as a demonstration project in the Village of Alton, multi-residential, institutions and corporations with assistance from the Greening Corporate Grounds program.
View the gallery to see before and after of their completed projects
CVC also has other programs such as Your Green Yard that focuses on ecological landscaping, including LID practices which cross through the three main practices of Your Green Yard: native plant gardening and landscaping, green maintenance, and green infrastructure. The program began in 2010 and focuses on presentations, workshops, and a suite of materials to engage homeowners. CVC has created quite a suite of materials: Prairie and Meadow Plants for Landscaping, Woodland Plants for Landscaping, Native Plant Lists for Breeding and Migrating Birds, Top Plant Picks for Your LID Garden, A Guide to Gardening Wisely, a Guide to Native Plant Nurseries & Seed Suppliers within a 100km radius, and more. Melanie Kramer, Program Coordinator of Residential Outreach at CVC, says that the focus is on education and implementation to assist homeowners to take the next step. “We create resources to help them do projects on their own” she said. Your Green Yard hosts workshops similar to Healthy Neighboursheds. The Rainscaping workshop takes CVC’s urban residents through the suite of LID options such as rain barrels, downspout disconnection, soakaways and rain gardens, discussing what might be appropriate for different sizes and types of home landscapes. It also shows residents how LID practices contribute to benefits like saving on water usage and lawn maintenance.
Other things CVC does differently from other conservation authorities is that they take professionals from the consulting and landscaping industry, government, and residents on tours of LID projects. CVC has also recently started an LID training program for professionals including contractors, landscape architects and engineers. They’ve developed in collaboration with TRCA’s Sustainable Technologies Evaluation program (STEP) courses around design, construction, inspection and maintenance, landscaping, and monitoring. By partnering with STEP through Toronto Region Conservation Authority, CVC is able to further develop their training program and courses.
Low Impact Development is still in the early adopter stages, but as you can see, when the education opportunities are there for people to learn, people are enthusiastic to use sustainable environmental practices. It’s still such a new field and conservation authorities are well poised to step up as leaders in LID in our cities, our communities, and our neighbourhoods.
Thank you to Carmen Martino, Silvester Sedivy, and to Credit Valley Conservation Authority for their contributions.
Last modified: September 5, 2017