The Illinois River Watershed is home to a beautiful 36-mile regional trail, The Razorback Greenway. The Greenway follows the headwater streams and tributaries of the Illinois River including Osage Creek, Spring Creek, and Clear Creek. We are excited to begin a Green Infrastructure (GI) Initiative through an Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and EPA grant to work along the Greenway with Alta Planning and the cities of Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville.
Green Infrastructure is an approach that communities can choose to maintain healthy waters, provide multiple environmental benefits and support sustainable communities. Green Infrastructure uses plant vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage rain water where it falls and reduce non-point source pollution to improve water quality. Slowing down runoff into a stream not only captures non-point source pollution, it prevents excessive rainwater volume and power that blasts out streambanks, damaging streamside vegetation and wiping out aquatic habitat.
Diagram of a Street Tree Bioswale
Photo: Mode Shift
Green Infrastructure also addresses the negative impacts of higher water temperatures from streets, roof tops and parking lots, which are harmful to the health and reproduction of aquatic life in streams. By weaving natural processes into the built environment, green infrastructure provides not only stormwater management, but also flood mitigation, air and water quality management, and many more environmental benefits.
Small Traffic Islands, Called “Greenstreets” Manage Urban Stormwater
Photo: Gotham Gazette
In funding this grant, EPA stated “At a time when so much of our infrastructure is in need of replacement or repair and so few communities can foot the bill, we need resilient and affordable solutions that meet many objectives at once. Green infrastructure is one solution.”
Implementation of the project will begin with the northernmost trails in Bentonville and Rogers and move south into Springdale and Fayetteville through the urban corridor. The Greenway is the most visible opportunity to demonstrate Green Infrastructure practices that can directly impact streams and provide convenient opportunities for the public to experience and gain understanding and motivation to implement similar features at their homes, businesses, schools, and churches.
An Example of Native Plants Used in Local Rain Gardens
Additional Green Infrastructure work will occur with help from the Arkansas Forestry Commission to plant native trees and utilize tree wells and water harvesting systems. We will work with Alta Planning, city planners, engineers, and parks and recreation departments on design of all phases. There will be plenty of opportunities for local volunteers and the public to participate!
Volunteers Planting a Rain Garden in Siloam Springs Public Library
We are partnering with local EAST (Environmental and Spacial Technology) programs to create living classroom experiences. The educational component will be designed to present the key components and principles of environmental science and technology and thereby help our students understand water improvement best management practices.
IRWP Creek Bed Rain Garden at Horsebarn Trail, Rogers, AR
The IRWP’s Watershed Management Plan indicates a key factor for the future is an increase in urban areas in the upper portions of the watershed from 13% in 2006 to over 58% in 2050. As with most urban areas, impervious surfaces dominate the landscape and the potential for hydrocarbons, nutrients, sediment, metals, pesticides and litter can flow rapidly into storm drain and directly to creeks and streams. Waters in our watershed flow downstream into northeast Oklahoma, then back into the Arkansas River, on to the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. Green Infrastructure will reduce storm runoff and lessens the potential for pollutants to enter streams while providing a hydrological connection potentially enhancing the entire micro ecosystem of the watershed.