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Living Green – Saving Great Lakes

Rain gardens help keep water clean

The Lake Superior Rain Garden Challenge is now in effect until April 15. Applications can be found at the Superior Watershed Partnership website. A rain garden, pictured above, is a sustainable, cost-efficient way to absorb and clean stormwater before it enters Lake Superior. (Photo courtesy of Superior Watershed Partnership)

MARQUETTE — When stormwater trickles slowly back to Lake Superior after a rainfall, runoff can pollute the lake with yard fertilizers, pesticides, automotive fluids and other materials it collects.

But a local initiative is aiming to reverse the impacts of stormwater by implementing the Lake Superior Rain Garden Challenge.

A collaboration between the Superior Watershed Partnership, the Community Foundation of Marquette County and other local groups will award three residential rain gardens $2,000 and two commercial or institutional rain gardens $3,000 apiece in the city of Marquette.

This idea began with the Great Lakes One Water Partnership, which involved a number of private funders and the council of 27 Michigan foundations across the Great Lakes basin organizing six regional teams: Lake Superior/Upper Peninsula regional team, Lower Lake Michigan regional team, Upper Lake Michigan regional team, Lake Huron regional team, Lake Erie regional team and Lake Ontario regional team.

The Lake Superior/Upper Peninsula regional team consists of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Keweenaw Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Marquette County, M&M Area Community Foundation, Community Foundation of the Upper Peninsula and the Community Foundation for Delta County.

Abbie Hanson, biologist, planner, Superior Watershed Partnership

Each team identified its area’s main water challenge and came up with individual projects to resolve those issues, Community Foundation of Marquette County CEO Gail Anthony said.

Funding of $12,000 per team came from GLOW Partnership with support from the Great Lake Protection Fund, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and Kresge Foundation, Anthony noted.

“It’s an educational demonstration project. So with this type of project, it’s our goal to help the residents of the current cohort, Marquette city, and eventually, the second cohort as well, to understand the simplicity of a rain garden and how effective it can be in impacting clean water for Lake Superior,” Anthony said. “… And to have something that’s there that you see is a tangible effort of the work we do so that people can replicate those efforts of the successful grant recipients so they can say, ‘Well, you know. My neighbor did this. Didn’t look so hard. I think I’ll do it.'”

Rain gardens will be positioned in spots where water naturally flows, which may be in a ditch or shallow depression where excess water is captured, SWP biologist and project planner Abbie Hanson said.

“Collectively as a region, we’re working to increase coastal resiliency and improve stormwater quality before it reaches the lake,” Hanson said. “And so, here in Marquette, we are utilizing the rain garden challenge as an opportunity to get residents and small businesses or schools or other institutions as well in having their own impact on their own property so contributing to cleaning and filtering stormwater before it enters Lake Superior.”

Gail Anthony, CEO, Community Foundation of Marquette County

Anthony hopes that with a sign perched in front of recipients’ rain gardens showcasing the positive effects of these projects, people will gain an incentive to implement their own rain gardens, she said, adding, it all begins with education and cooperation in order to preserve and protect the Great Lakes.

“It is really impactful to see what actually ends up in our lake. You go stand on the shore and you’re just all, ‘Ah, Lake Superior. It’s so beautiful.’ But then you start looking at all that plastic, it’s like what are we doing to our lake?” Anthony said. “And it’s not just that, it’s people putting fertilizer on their lawns and all those chemicals that we use — fire retardants, the PFAS — things like that we don’t even realize that are ending up in our lake, our precious lake. So we have to pay attention.”

The SWP is all about conservation and preservation, and this project is a way to teach others efficient ways to leave a positive impact on the environment, Hanson added.

“I think it’s really great and through this project, we can provide that launching point where we can invest these initial funds and show residents and business owners that this is a relatively low-cost solution,” Hanson said. “I also think it can be really empowering to the people that want these gardens and it makes them feel a part of the solution in helping to protect Lake Superior. A lot of people find that to be really important.”

For eligibility and applications, visit superiorwatersheds.org/rain-garden-challenge or call 906-228-6095. The application is now open through April 15, recipients will be selected by May 15.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is jjahfetson@miningjournal.net.