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Success Stories: Rainwater Champions & Innovators

New York City’s $US 1.9 Billion Program to Combat Flooding includes Hundreds of Rain Gardens in the Borough of Queens


“Southeast Queens has been plagued for generations with flooding. There are many factors that are the cause of this problem; but its residents have still suffered with their homes and streets being overrun with water whenever there is a storm,” Community Board 13 District Manager Mark McMillan said. “Rain gardens are an example of an environmentally friendly way that both beautifies communities while providing drainage in flood prone areas.”

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BUILDING RAIN GARDENS IN THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY ERA: “We hope that as the broader community learns about the North Shore Rain Garden Project, this awareness will encourage homeowners to take an active role and see the potential for rain gardens in their own backyards,” stated Dr. Joanna Ashworth, Project Director


“Community engagement and green infrastructure are powerful partners for building climate resiliency. Our vision is to scale up this work and encourage our partners to embrace this winning partnership as significant levers for change,” stated Dr. Joanna Ashworth. “Municipalities often miss the opportunity to involve their communities in the design, location selection, and construction of the rain gardens. This involvement also provides important opportunities to educate and engage the public in stewarding this remarkable green technology.”

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HARD WORK OF HOPE: “Our rivers are being reborn after a century of decline. This is a defining moment for all the communities that live in our Santa Cruz Watershed,” wrote Lisa Shipek, Executive Director, Watershed Management Group (Tuscon, Arizona)


“It’s not just the Santa Cruz that is being reborn. I have good news to share from other parts of our watershed. The nonprofit I direct, Watershed Management Group, has been monitoring creek flows across the Tucson basin since 2017,” stated Lisa Shipek. “Having flow in the Santa Cruz River downtown provides a daily visual of what a desert river looks like, which will help open the hearts and minds of the greater community to what is possible. We should rejoice alongside the Tohono O’Odham Nation and work with it to restore flow to our rivers and quicken our pace towards a more resilient future.”

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LEADING CHANGE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Rainwater design FIRST ….then roads and buildings,” states Professor Daniel Roehr, head of the Greenskins Lab


Founded by Daniel Roehr in 2007, the ‘greenskins lab’ is a research group at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. The lab disseminates information on urban design retrofits and new approaches that improve the ecological functions of public open spaces. “Designers need easy tools when they do their first sketches. Our tool helps at the beginning of the design phase at all scales – region to garden,” stated Daniel Roehr.

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DODGING DAY ZERO IN CAPETOWN: “The next step comprises the management of all water within the urban water cycle. A key component of this is rain and stormwater harvesting, which offers great growth opportunities,” stated Deputy Mayor Ian Nelson


“The City has already initiated steps towards the goal of becoming a water-sensitive city by 2040. In the City’s draft water strategy, which will be taken through an inclusive public participation process over the coming months, the use of rain and stormwater is included,” stated Ian Neilson. The first step in being able to use stormwater as a water resource was to move stormwater and river management out of the City’s transport department and into the water department. This has already been done, added Nielson.

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Leading Change on Canada’s Prairies: A unique rain garden has been installed along the perimeter of Harvest Townhomes, which the developer says is a first in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


“West Coast style has migrated to the prairies at Harvest Townhomes, designed and constructed by Arbutus Properties in its popular community, The Meadows,” wrote Jeannie Armstrong. “The Harvest Townhomes development has above-ground 3-storey townhomes with colourful exteriors and attached garages, a style more typical of Vancouver than Saskatoon. When fully built out, Harvest Townhomes will comprise over 225 units. A unique rain garden, developed in consultation with the University of Saskatchewan, has also been installed along the perimeter of Harvest Townhomes.”

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Stream daylighting would reconnect community to Mississippi River: Redevelopment of historic Ford car assembly site in Saint Paul, Minnesota offers potential for “A 21st Century Community”


There once was a creek running through the St. Paul land where Henry Ford built his Twin Cities Assembly Plant. The project will reintroduce area residents to the Mississippi River.“We know we have a new neighborhood and how do we allow the existing neighbors and new neighbors to physically connect with the river as a resource?” he asked. “This is so powerful, because it’s also a way to have people reconnect with the urban ecosystem and the downstream river.”

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VIDEO: “Maximum Extent Practicable, or MEP, has become the definitional driver for a lot of what we do,” said Andy Reese, engineer and writer who coined the term Voodoo Hydrology in 2006 to explain the pitfalls inherent in urban drainage practice


“Years ago I was privileged to travel around the US with EPA putting on seminars,” stated Andy Reese in 2011. “Three off-the-cuff words have probably have had the biggest impact in influencing land design of any sort of regulatory program that ever was, and perhaps that ever will be. Those three words were maximum, extent and practicable. Back then, none of those words were capitalized. They were just a made-up term. But MEP is now taking on green infrastructure overtones, sustainability overtones, LID overtones, and on and on.”

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An Interview with Peter Law (November 2017): “Our goal is to educate people in the watershed surrounding Shelly Creek. We will be conducting ‘kitchen table talks’ to educate people on the effects of excess water running through the stream.”


The Shelly Creek experience foreshadows that an informed stream stewardship sector may prove to be a difference-maker that accelerates implementation of the ‘whole-system, water balance’ approach in British Columbia. “We’ve got some issues around trying to slow the water down. As lands get developed, we ditch and we drain everything and that moves water into the channel faster and pushes it into this place. As a site is developed or cleared, you’re actually looking at how you can slow the water down from that site, not drain it,” stated Peter Law.

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Green Infrastructure is a Resiliency Investment that Pays Dividends: “New York City can serve as a model for American coastal cities looking for ways to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Carter Strickland, New York state director of The Trust for Public Land


With 520 miles of coastline, there are more residents living in high-risk flood zones in New York City than any other city in the United States. “As New York comes to grip with this new reality, the city, civic institutions, and community groups are building parks and playgrounds that incorporate plants, permeable pavement, greenroofs, green roofs, trees, bioswales, and rainwater catchment systems and other ‘green infrastructure’. This is important because cities are hotter than surrounding areas, and their residents are more vulnerable to heat waves, one of the greatest public health threats from climate change,” wrote Carter Strickland.

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