By Joan Herriges, Mini-Grant Program Manager
There’s a new way to store water where it falls, and Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church has found it with the help of a mini-grant from Sweet Water. Located in Milwaukee’s Washington Heights neighborhood at the corner of 55th and Lloyd Streets, Spirit of Peace makes learning about environmental stewardship and green infrastructure part and parcel of its progressive philosophy.
It all started when Sarah Kubetz, a church staff member, suggested to Brandon Koltz, church council president, that they replace a portion of the lawn with gardens to decrease the amount of lawn to mow. Brandon Koltz is a professional environmental engineer and a member of Sweet Water’s Science Committee. He happened to see an exhibit of a new way to collect rainwater, called StormGUARDen, ™ developed by Stormwater Solutions Engineering.
In the fall of 2017, Brandon requested a mini-grant from Sweet Water to disconnect four roof downspouts from the combined storm and sanitary sewers. In June, each downspout was disconnected and diverted to capture rain flow in a StormGUARDen ™ storage device and prevent flow that can overwhelm the sewer system. The captured water will be used to irrigate rain gardens created near the storage devices and a vegetable garden.
The church has an Urban Retreat Center that provides an urban service program, trains youth and/or adults in community action skills, and more. These volunteers come to the Retreat Center to learn to live simply and intentionally. Working on the new gardens will teach the volunteers why water is a valuable resource that can stay where it falls and penetrate into the gardens instead of picking up pollutants on the way to the sewers and contaminating the drinking water.
Spirit of Peace plans to notify local grade schools and neighborhood youth groups, and post information on its website and Facebook page about the project. They are willing to conduct presentations by request to "sing the praises" of how their project and StormGUARDen ™ reduces potential flooding and therefore improves water quality.
StormGUARDen ™ is a specially designed, 10-foot-long box filled with tubs of soil and topped with flowers and native grasses that can collect and slow down the water from storms dropping up to 3 inches of rain. Small pipes open on the sides of the box to release excess water. The boxes provide an efficient and attractive alternative to using rain barrels because each box stores enough water to fill 6.5 barrels and holds up to 350 gallons.