Watershed Conservation

by Angela Lebron-Cola
(December 2011)

Community-based conservation efforts are critical to the success of protecting and conserving the natural resources within the Salt Creek Watershed. The dynamics of cooperative behavior and the pooling of resources are effective when the combined knowledge and discipline of all stakeholders are harnessed to benefit the conservation of a watershed. Plants, animals, aquatic life, individuals, communities and government should be equal stakeholders in a watershed’s ecosystem. However, urbanization and development continue to deplete these natural resources and cause significant environmental impacts such as soil degradation, impaired water quality, flood damage, human casualty, and economic devastation. The need to explore and improve conservation efforts has become one of the most important catalysts in sustaining ecosystems for all of their inhabitants.

Aerial view of Egan Wastewater Treatment Plant (left) and Busse Woods (right) -- two different impacts upon the upper Salt Creek Watershed (Google Maps)

Homeowner, business owner, developer, and government leader involvement is needed in order to have a conservation plan that addresses all of the stressors. The goal is to incorporate a comprehensive approach to address these impairments. This requires education, public awareness, volunteerism, and best management practices for the people that live and work within the watershed.

The Salt Creek Watershed hosts two conservation organizations, the Salt Creek Watershed Network and the Dupage River Salt Creek Workgroup (DRSCW).

The Salt Creek Watershed Network is a grass roots organization that seeks to bridge other various volunteer groups with the Salt Creek Watershed as part of a regional effort to facilitate a project management process to work with the stakeholders to identify ways to preserve the water quality, natural habitat, and recreational use of the Salt Creek River. The goal of the DuPage River Salt Creek Work Group is to establish water quality standards by identifying the sources of impairments found in the Salt Creek River’s Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL). The conservation plans of these work groups are to understand the sources of impairment, reduce the discharge of pollution, and preserve recreational use of the waterways. These efforts include:

  • Targeting declining watershed areas
  • Implementing routine monitoring by using submerged probes to collect data throughout the watershed
  • Establishing water and bio-assessments of the habitants within the watershed
  • Working with the municipalities and the communities to provide technical support and education in how to implement best management practices and programs for conservation

In fact, policy and ordinance changes are the key to implementing water management and conservation because of the financial and technical support that is provided to the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. For example, best management practices (BMPs) for storm water management are regulated by the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which is mandated by the EPA. Subdivision and Land Development Ordinances and Landscaping and Screening Ordinances are also benchmarked by the NPDES. These ordinances have been modified to require native landscaping to absorb and filter storm water run-off and require ecologically-friendly practices to be implemented in these sector’s operations. These solutions are meant to preserve water quality, prevent flooding, divert water away for the sewer systems, and recycle water back into the deep ground aquifers.

Other best management practices regarding pollution prevention is to reduce residue that seeps into the waterways and aquifers. Nonpoint source pollutants such as pesticides from agricultural areas and toxic chemicals from road salt wash off surfaces as runoff. Ordinances and BMPs are a great benchmark for instituting conservation methods — but conservation efforts are actualized when people and businesses within the watershed are required as standard business practice. Low-impact developments, such as rain gardens, green roof-tops, bioswales, rain barrels, and automated meter reading, are all different methodologies that are being implemented by various businesses, park districts, institutions, and residential homes.

The biggest conservation impact is when ecological infrastructures are re-established, as in the case of re-creating wetlands and floodplains. This requires that land developers pay into a mitigation fund that is proportional to the impact that the development has on the watershed. The funds then go to restoring the wetlands and marshes as a means of offsetting the developmental impact on the watershed.

Accountability and involvement are required of all who live, work, and invest within the communities of the Salt Creek Watershed. Instituting ordinances, networking with organizations, and engaging the community are the catalysts for conservation. However, effective conservation can be seen in the protection and preservation of these natural resources. Re-creating natural habitats and allowing nature in the form of green infrastructure to provide its many ecosystem services are the best conservation methods.

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