We use water to sustain our bodies, cook and grow our food. We use it to wash everything from clothes to toes, cars to decks. We use it to float goods to us from faraway places, and to carry away waste products. We swim, paddle and play in it.
We arrange our communities so when we get too much at once we can get rid of it as soon as possible, or store it in large unnatural basins. Sometimes when rain is scarce we wish we had more of it.
We pay for it to be prepared for our tap and pay for it to be cleaned as it leaves our homes. In many locations, we pay stormwater fees as well.
Last week, I participated in the Calumet Summit with more than 100 people interested in exploring better ways to coexist with, protect and invest in natural resources shared between Northwest Indiana and Northeastern Illinois.
During presentations and discussions of the many innovative projects and opportunities occurring throughout our area, I thought of another really beneficial way we are starting to use water in our region — to connect us.
Water, after all, knows no boundaries other than the watershed. It rains on everyone the same. Rivers and streams flow right through city, town, county and state line borders. We share Lake Michigan, the Kankakee River, Wolf Lake, Grand Calumet River, Little Calumet River and Plum Creek with our Illinois neighbors.
At the neighborhood level, a Valparaiso project allowed residents to bid on the opportunity to install rain barrels or rain gardens on their property to reduce the size and cost of a needed stormwater flood control basin. In this project, neighbors became involved in implementing city water management solutions.
At the watershed level, stakeholder groups and residents have developed plans for multi-jurisdictional waters such as Trail Creek, Coffee Creek, Salt Creek and portions of the Little Calumet River.
Hundreds of volunteers from all over the region come together in September on International Coastal Clean Up day to pick up litter and debris at our beaches and tributaries.
NIRPC’s 2007 Blueways Plan led to water trails on the Lake Michigan coast and the Kankakee River with support of several state, county, regional, local agencies, industry and the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association. These allow paddlers from all over the region and beyond to connect to our waters and to each other. Multistate efforts to invest in Lake Michigan Water Trail planning resulted in its designation as a National Recreational Trail in 2011.
How are you connected with our regional waterways? Do you fish, paddle or boat? Swim at a beach or watch ducks on a pond? Do you participate in stream cleanups or garden with native plants?
If you aren’t connected to your water, but would like to be, check with your local stormwater department or go to www.nirpc.org/environment/water.