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Watershed councils collaborate to change infrastructure from gray to green

A rain barrel and small garden next to a house.
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Adobe Stock
Rain barrels are one of many ways residents can reduce pollution from rainwater runoff.

If you live in southeast Michigan, it’s getting easier to make your lawn environmentally friendly.

Watershed councils covering the Huron, Rouge and Clinton rivers have created the Rain Catchers Collective to help more residents and municipalities build green infrastructure. Ric Lawson, a watershed planner at the Huron River Watershed Council and the program’s manager, said current infrastructure isn’t equipped to filter rainwater.

“Stormwater systems really are just meant to convey the water away from properties and get it to streams as quickly as possible,” he said. “And that's sort of part of the problem.”

Called “gray” infrastructure, the current system of grates, curbs and sewers transports pollutants from rainwater runoff into nearby water bodies, degrading water quality and increasing the risk of flooding.

That pollution comes from “anywhere where we have impervious surfaces, where we have those hardened surfaces that we as humans have put onto the landscape,” Lawson said.

Green infrastructure like rain barrels and rain gardens provides natural filtration that keeps waterways cleaner. They also slow rainwater by collecting or diverting it, reducing the amount of pollutants it picks up as it flows.

Member organizations of the Rain Catchers Collective already have educational and supply programs for rain barrels and rain gardens. Friends of the Rouge encourages residents to “get your lawn a job,” while the Clinton River Watershed Council provides guidance for receiving rebates from Oakland County for installing green infrastructure.

The watershed councils also provide design and other support services for municipalities. Municipal green infrastructure can include building rainwater retention structures, creating green roofs and installing porous pavement.

Lawson said they hope by bringing their expertise together, they can make their programs accessible to more people and communities.

“We're just trying to consolidate that under kind of one banner of projects so that we can get these practices in place as quickly, as easily as possible,” Lawson said.

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