Water week in Chicago

Greetings from Chicago, fellow Solutionaries! The following is cross-posted from LetsGoChicago.org. After Middleton’s post below, it seems there is a water conscious trend happening here in the Midwest. We are glad to be a part of it! Read on to learn about our take on water awareness and water conservation.

Molly and children in the garden during water week

The week of July 9, which focused on water issues, was so busy we didn’t have time for a mid-week blog post, but we have plenty of water-themed stories to tell. We kicked off the week by watching a documentary called Flow: For Love of Water on Monday. It’s about issues of clean water scarcity, and how the privatization of clean water sources by big business is hurting our communities and forcing people to suffer. It was shocking to see such a phenomenon taking place, but it energized our discussion of global water issues, and inspired us with stories of how communities have successfully fought for their right to clean water.

Participants showing off their complete sub-irrigated planter (SIP)

We continued to work with water Tuesday by making rain barrels out of materials that we purchased at the hardware store for about thirty bucks per unit, using large plastic trash cans. It was great fun using power tools, teflon tape, and various brass doodads to make a functional and highly economical water management solution that any home owner could easily accomplish. On Wednesday, we also made sub-irrigated planters from discarded 5-gallon pickle buckets that would have ended up in the city landfill. Instead, using pieces of copper pipe and a homemade soil mixture, we created cheap, highly efficient devices for growing huge tomato plants with minimal water usage! Check out the link to learn more about SIPs and the great work of Green Roof Growers.

Aquaponics Facility at Whitney Young Magnet High School

One of our Solutionaries, Anna Greenberg, shares responsibility for maintaining a small greenhouse and aquaponics facility at Whitney Young Magnet High School, where she is entering her senior year. Our team visited her school on Thursday, where she gave us a tour of the project and put us to work on everything from rotating compost to testing the chemical concentrations in the fish tank. It was a great hands-on learning experience to work on an aquaponics system which both produces perch, a delicious edible fish, and sustains a large number of useful plants.

Volunteering at the Center for Neighborhood Technology

We took another field trip Friday to the new CNT-Energy headquarters in Chicago, where we worked on their rain garden, which is centered around a massive elm tree. It’s a beautiful sight in the middle of the city, standing starkly between the office buildings on either side, and it soaks up plenty of excess rainwater, but the downside is the multitude of tiny elm saplings that need to be pulled out by hand.

After a couple of hours working and learning about their plants, we took a tour of the facility, which is still in the earliest stages of sustainable retrofitting but already buzzing with activity. Then we enjoyed a pizza lunch and a presentation from our partner in landscape architecture, the incredible Alexia Paul, who spoke to us about stormwater management issues in Chicago (especially relevant given the downpour that shortly followed – see her video of the rain garden in action here).

Moving dirt for the construction of our French drain

Overall, we had a fantastic week of learning and getting things done. My project team, which focuses on green infrastructure, finally completed the French Drain component of our first rain garden contract! We finished right on schedule despite the unbelievable challenges we faced, and I could not be more proud of our Solutionaries. Look out for an upcoming post all about our project (with lots of pictures)!


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