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Cleveland's summer green corps

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/27/08 @ 1:14pm

What might green collar jobs look like in Cleveland? To get some idea, see the dozens of Cleveland kids combining work and hands-on environmental learning this summer.

For the second straight year, teams of young adults participating in Cleveland's Summer Youth Program are building rain barrels, digging and planting rain gardens, collecting water samples and cleaning beaches at Lake Erie, painting 'Dump no waste' stencils at storm drains, reading water meters, and using GIS to track light poles for Cleveland Public Power.

Cleveland, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and Neighborhood Progress, Inc. (NPI) are the program sponsors.

We visited with the teams building rain barrels and laying the groundwork for a rain garden.

Cleveland's Kareema Jackson and Robben Abkins (pictured) were busy converting 55-gallon drums into rain barrels- tapping out and caulking plugs for diverter hoses and twisting-on spigots-in a city-owned warehouse on the southwest side. They will build and install 280 rain barrels at residences in NPI's six 'model block' neighborhoods. After their crew meets a 40-barrel-a-day quota, the barrels are loaded onto trucks and another team will ride out to homes where supervisors help them place two cinder blocks for a base and hook them up to a backyard downspout.

Before the sweaty work of digging multiple 12-inch deep beds for a rain garden, participants are trained by Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District on how rain gardens work. Plants that are native to our region-river birch, dogwood, Shenandoah red switch grass and perennials such as flag iris, black-eyed susan and geranium-will be used because they require less water. The garden is designed to catch the water running off from hard surfaces.

"It will help catch rain because this (grassy embankment) is like concrete, it just runs off it real fast," says program participant, Brent Holt. "For the first two years it has to be watered, but it won't need any water after that."

The Sewer District invested $25,000 for three rain gardens, which includes landscape architect Jim McKnight's designs, the cost of the plants, and the labor provided by the young men and women. The rain gardens will be located:

  • Behind the new Aldi supermarket, beside Morgana Run Trail, on Broadway Avenue in Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood
  • At Kerruish Park in Cleveland's Union-Miles neighborhood
  • At Willard Park, E. 9th Street and Lakeside Avenue (site of the Free Stamp) in downtown Cleveland

In addition to these three rain gardens, Cleveland plans to build ten more throughout the city, says Fran DiDonato from the city's Office of Sustainability.

Rain gardens are among a portfolio of ideas cities are pursuing to slow water rushing from paved surfaces into storm sewers where big storm events cause overflow and damage to rivers and streams. Cleveland is also exploring new ideas in stormwater management, including its new ordinance to allow residents to disconnect the downspouts from their house and direct them to rain gardens or rain barrels. Other ideas include bioswales, or vegetative areas that filter pollutants, running off parking lots. The city is working on plans to build a bioswale in the parking lot of the Gospel Press redevelopment in Tremont, DiDonato says.

The Environmental Protection Agency set the framework for cities to pursue stormwater management with its Phase I and Phase II regulations. For the latter, Cleveland is requiring developments (1-acre or larger in separated storm sewer areas) to have an approved stormwater management plan. For example, it required that Steelyard Commons have a plan to slow rain water, which led to the developer working with Ohio EPA and a design for a pond in the middle of the parking lot that slows down rain water, DiDonato says.

Cities like Milwaukee and Philly (which, incidentally, have stormwater agencies) are leaders in 'green' infrastructure. The former has one of the best examples of how Rust Belt cities can handle stormwater and, at the same time create an attraction out of a wetlands park at its Menomonee Valley eco-industrial park.

Setting goals for reducing our impact on rivers, streams and Lake Erie is a new focus for the Sewer District. As it explores the possibility of creating a stormwater agency for Northeast Ohio, it will need to work with cities like Cleveland in setting goals for how much green infrastructure-permeable pavement parking lots, bioswales, rain gardens, rain barrels-we need to eliminate the negative impact of stormwater events and flooding.

See a photo gallery of YOU participants building rain gardens and rain barrels (as well as other green infrastructure ideas) here.

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