Watershed Friendly Landscaping

Welcome to UDPREP's watershed friendly landscaping web page. Follow the links at right to access:
  • more information on each featured landscaping practice,
  • addresses and photos of real-world examples of featured practices that you can visit throughout northeastern Illinois,
  • an abundance of online resources, schematics, case studies, monitoring data, photos, and much more!


UDPREP created this section of our web site in order to provide private landowners and public land managers with information and resources on watershed friendly landscaping techniques. While installing a rain garden or replacing your asphalt walkway with permeable pavers may seem like a small thing, collectively these individual choices can produce substantial neighborhood and watershed benefits. Together, we can use these practices to help address some of the gravest threats to the health of our river.


Watershed Threats
In pre-settlement times, rain water falling on the Upper Des Plaines River Watershed would infiltrate the soil and slowly percolate to the river's mainstem through a network of wetlands, streams, and groundwater systems.

As the population of our watershed has grown, so too has the amount of land covered with impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, and walkways. Impervious surfaces do not allow stormwater to infiltrate the soil. Instead, stormwater washes across these surfaces into storm drains or directly into our local streams, ponds, and lakes. This stormwater runoff carries with it pollutants such as oil and other fluids that leak from cars and numerous harmful substances that collect on paved areas.

As wetlands and floodplains are lost and as impervious surfaces expand, the ecological and hydrological integrity of our watershed is seriously compromised. Major watershed challenges now include:

  • Unstable stream flows. Our tributary streams and the river mainstem are experiencing higher, faster flows during storm events and lower base flows during dry periods.
  • Flooding. Our watershed has experienced a dramatic increase in the intensity and impact of flood events. Major floods are a threat to health and safety, impair our local economies, and degrade our community's quality of life.
  • Accelerated streambank erosion. During storm events, the forceful speed of stream flows scours out streambanks. Erosion not only damages streamside property, but it also destroys in-stream habitat and causes significant sediment pollution problems downstream.
  • Poor water quality. Pollutants impact the river's capacity to support human uses and wildlife populations.


What You Can Do
Whether you own a parcel of land in the watershed or you are responsible for managing public property in our region, you can make a difference in the health of our river.

By implementing one or more of the watershed friendly landscaping practices featured on this web site, you can help to:

1. Reduce the amount of stormwater runoff flowing into storm drains and surface waters. For example, a rain garden built below a downspout on a typical quarter acre residential lot will reduce the annual runoff from that lot by 25 percent. 1 Green roofs can reduce annual runoff by 50 to 90% . 2

2. Increase the amount of water that filters into the ground, which recharges local and regional aquifers and helps stabilize stream flows.

3. Help protect your community from flooding and drainage problems.

4. Help decrease the burden on water treatment facilities and municipal drainage systems during storms.

5. Help protect our river from pollutants carried by stormwater. For instance, studies have shown that bioswales can remove up to 80% of phosphorus, 80% of ammonia, and over 90% of heavy metals such as copper, zinc, and lead from stormwater. 3

6. Enhance the beauty of yards, public spaces, and neighborhoods.

7. Provide valuable food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and many beneficial insects.

8. Reduce the need for traditional stormwater detention areas.

9. Reduce thermal pollution, which is created when stormwater temperatures rise as the water washes across impervious surfaces, e.g. hot parking lots in summer. Heated stormwater flowing into streams can impact fish and other wildlife that depend on cold water to live and breed.

Bioswales can help to cool stormwater. One study observed a temperature drop of 12C between stormwater entering a bioswale and stormwater filtering out of the bioswale. 4

10. Save you money. For example:

Green roofs can not only reduce energy requirements associated with heating and cooling a building's interior5, they can, on average, prolong the life of a conventional roof by at least 20 years because the vegetation prevents the roof from being exposed to ultraviolet radiation and cold winds. 6

Native plants require no fertilizers and fewer pesticides than lawns. Nationally, over 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns annually. A study by Applied Ecological Services of larger properties estimates that, over a 20 year period, the cumulative cost of maintaining a prairie or a wetland totals $3,000 per acre versus $20,000 per acre for non-native turf grasses. 7

Residential irrigation can account for 40% of domestic water consumption in a given municipality. Rain barrels are a ready source of free, non-chlorinated water; only 1/4 inch of rainfall runoff from the average roof will completely fill a typical barrel. 8




Funding for UDPREP's watershed friendly landscaping project provided by the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission's Watershed Management Assistance Grant Program.





Photo courtesy of the City of Portland, OR



Photo credit: Lake Co. Soil and Water Conservation District



Photo by Alison Cook



Photo by Alison Cook



Photo by Alison Cook



Photo by Alison Cook.




1 Rain Gardens: A how-to manual for homeowners, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
2 Conservation Development in Practice, The Nature Conservancy, Chicago Wilderness, and The Conservation Design Forum
3Low Impact Development Center
5 Conservation Development in Practice, The Nature Conservancy, Chicago Wilderness, and The Conservation Design Forum
6A Guide to Stormwater Best Management Practices, City of Chicago
7 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
8Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District