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Blue Water

Rain Barrels at Paul Revere Primary school

This project was featured on January 18, 2013 on ABC7 News. Watch it now!

To help manage stormwater in a flood-prone neighborhood on the city’s northeast side, the City of Blue Island has undertaken a multi-phase project to implement neighborhood-scale stormwater management in both public and private sites throughout the neighborhood, which is bordered by 119th Street to the north, Western Ave. to the west, 123rd Place to the south, and the Metra tracks to the east. This effort will be the first steps to help alleviate local flooding and basement back issues in this neighborhood.

During Phase I in the fall of 2012, the city partnered with the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council and several other partners to install approximately 125 rain barrels and several native plant gardens at key public sites.

The rain barrels and native gardens provide local residents and businesses with examples of how to use green infrastructure to manage stormwater on their own properties. Green infrastructure is the use of natural techniques to manage stormwater by slowing it down and diverting it out of sewer systems for other uses. This phase was one of 12 projects that were designated by the Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources as a Millennium Reserve model project. Neighborhood residents and business owners attended several rain barrel installation and garden planting days throughout the neighborhood to see how they work, as well as workshops about gardening led by local Master Gardeners. Rain barrels will be available for free for neighborhood residents, along with educational materials on how to install, use and maintain them. (UPDATE: Interest in the rain barrels was so strong, we have already used all barrels from the  first order.  If you live in the focus neighborhood and already contacted the City of Blue Island to request barrels, you are first on the waiting list and will be contacted when the next order arrives in the spring.  Thank you for your patience!)

The city has applied for funding to the Ill. Environmental Protection Agency for funding for Phase II, which will focus on public right-of-way investments in the same neighborhood, including green alleys, stormwater bumpouts at intersections, bioswales and native plant rain gardens along Vincennes Ave., and naturalized detention areas in the adjacent brownfield site. Notice of funding will come July 2013 and this page will be updated as soon as there is news.

Blue Island, Blue Water Objectives:

  • Reduce volume of stormwater entering combined sewer systems, mitigate possible runoff from future development, and delay/reduce need for expansion of sewer mains.
  • Reduce pollutant loading to sewer and waterways by reducing urban runoff, which is laden with salts, metals, nutrients, and other contaminants, leading to 303(d) listing for BI’s waterways.
  • Utilize stormwater and GI as a resource for habitats, landscaping and aesthetics.
  • Improve neighborhood stakeholders’ understanding of stormwater problems and feasible private and public right-of-way solutions through educational workshops and small-scale green infrastructure investments, and motivate subsequent action.
  • Integrate commercial/industrial redevelopment and stormwater management to prevent worsening of stormwater conditions within the watershed and local sewershed and spur economic growth.
  • Establish Blue Island as a leader within Cook County and Illinois in innovative stormwater management, economic development, and community engagement.

We still need your help and participation!  Continue reading to learn how you can get involved!

View Blue Island Rain Barrel Initiative in a full screen map

Plant a backyard rain garden!

Millennium Reserve Roots is a neighborhood habitat program that connects individuals with the natural resources of Millennium Reserve on a personal and “backyard” scale.  The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is providing native plants via a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Technical help is also available to homeowners and organizations with some space to devote to biodiversity.  Native plant gardens even on smaller scales, improve biodiversity by offering a small oasis of food and shelter to native birds and animals.  Native plants are also an important component of green infrastructure.  Gardens reduce water usage, can help lower air pollution, and help improve management of rainwater.  Partner organizations working on Roots Neighborhood Habitat include Metropolitan Planning Council, the City of Blue Island, and the University of Illinois Extension.

If you have property within the target neighborhood and are interested in installing a rain garden, contact Jason Berry at the City of Blue Island: jberry@cityofblueisland.org or 708-597-8606.

How to install and maintain a rain barrel

Other residents can purchase their own rain barrels through the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) or Illinois Correctional Industries (ICI).

This video provides easy-to-follow instructions for installing a rain barrel at your home.  MWRD also has a step-by-step guide to help you with the process.

Once installed, rain barrels require minimal upkeep.  However, each fall, make sure to completely drain the barrel before the first hard freeze to prevent ice damage.


It is important to drain your rain barrel each winter. Because most barrels are made of plastic they can crack if standing water freezes inside. Keep your barrel safe by following these three steps:

  • Drain your rain barrel for the winter by opening the spigot and letting the water drain out. Be sure to drain all hoses as well. (You can collect the water and use it for your indoor houseplants this winter).
  • Disconnect your rain barrel downspout and replace it with the original downspout.  It is important that you direct water from your roof away from the foundation of your house.
  • Store your rain barrel.  Storing your rain barrel out of the elements in a garage or shed is the best option.  If you are unable to do so, make sure that it is stored in a secure location where it will not be blown away and that the spigot is open to allow drainage.  You can also turn it upside down with the cap off to allow drainage.


Recap of past events

Free gardening workshop series

January-May, 2013

Led by the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Program.

  • January 17, 2013: Design Your Garden
  • February 21, 2013: Native Perennial Plants
  • March 21, 2013: Bring Butterflies to the Garden
  • April 18, 2013: Mange Weeds Organically
  • May 16, 2013: Shade Gardens

Download a flyer to pass along to your neighbors: Blue Water Garden Workshop event flyer.

Plant a Native Garden

Using local native plants can make your garden more resistant to drought and can help manage stormwater.  The City of Chicago’s Sustainable Backyards Program provides a detailed list of plants native to northeastern Illinois.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Blue Island residents turn storm water into resource

ABC 7’s News “Living Green” highlighted success in Blue Island to integrate green infrastructure in our historic community. Read the full story here.


Saturday, October 6, 2012  

Evangelical Community Church

Neighborhood residents and business owners learned from experts about how rain barrels work and how to plant successful native plant gardens.

Click here to download the event flyer


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Paul Revere Primary and Paul Revere Intermediate Schools

Part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Schools Day, planners and architects designed and installed a sustainable courtyard for the Primary school with help from over 100 community members! They also demonstrated how to install rain barrels at several locations throughout both schools and the planting of native plant gardens.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Paul Revere Primary and Intermediate Schools for winning the USGBC Green Apple Day of Service Best Overall Event and Most Participants awards!

The U.S. Green Building Council presented the Lakota Group with an award for their design work at the Paul Revere Schools. Photo credit Joan Martin, USGBC Illinois.

Southtown Star story about the event

Who Said Stormwater Management Couldn’t Be Fun? by Metropolitan Planning Council’s Abby Crisostomo

The Power of Community – Green Apple Day of Service by Lakota Group’s Daniel Grove

Photos of the event from Jason Berry, City of Blue Island

More photos from Daniel Grove of the Lakota Group

Photos from Ania Ruszaj, Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources

Photos from Metropolitan Planning Council (Matt Nichols & Abby Crisostomo) and Cook County School District 130 (Stephanie Fordice)


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Park District Tot Lot

Master Gardeners led community members in creating a native plant garden along the east side of the tot lot.

Seizing the Rain in Blue Island, blog post and video by the Metropolitan Planning Council


Resources for Educators

The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program presented a workshop for educators, titled Protecting the Lake Michigan Watershed: Strategies to Inspire Student Learning and Stewardship.

Educators who attended the workshop were given the following tools and resources:

  • Get hands-on experience with an engaging watershed model and award-winning NOAA-Sea Grant Great Lakes curricula.
  • Learn how rain barrels and rain gardens are used for stormwater management.
  • Incorporate Great Lakes Literacy Principles in your classroom to help students understand current issues and become good environmental citizens.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant story about the educator workshop


Resident Resources

Interactive rain garden model and animation from the University of Nebraska

Installing a Rain Barrel (install your own rain barrels)

Designing a Rain Garden (install your own rain garden)

Managing Stormwater at Home (a useful guide on the basics of green infrastructure)

Administración del Agua de Lluvia en Casa (lo mísmo como arriba, pero en español)

CNT’s Green Values Stormwater Toolbox (a collection of useful information about stormwater, including the Green Values Stormwater Management Calculator

What Our Water’s Worth


Project Partners

The City of Blue Island has partnered with several organizations to make this project work.


Lead partners:

Illinois Department of Natural Resources through the Millennium Reserve

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Metropolitan Planning Council

University of Illinois Extension, Cook County

U.S. Green Building Council

Additional partners:

Blue Island Chamber of Commerce

Blue Island Park District

Calumet Stewardship Initiative

Christy Webber Landscapes

Cook South Suburban Master Gardeners 

Evangelical Community Church of Blue Island

Opportunity Advancement Innovation in Workforce Development (OAI) through YouthBuild 

Paul Revere Intermediate School 

Paul Revere Primary School