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Natural Wetland And Prairie Vegetation —
An Alternative Non-Structural Approach To Shore Stabilization
And Enhanced Water Quality

By JOHN HEINZ, Director of Public Works and PAUL C. NICHOLSON, Village Manager

One of the major problems urban municipalities face, involving urban streams, is the difficulty or inability to stabilize the "toe" of the banks of the streams in order to prevent erosion and undercutting of the banks. As a result, during the past 10 years, there has been an increasing movement to utilize alternative non-structural techniques for stream, lake and pond stabilization, as well as wetland enhancement.

Because the Village of Barrington, Cook and Lake Counties, Illinois, has such a stream and an abundant number of natural wetlands, the Village has adopted a long term goal of improving water quality, through the stabilization of the shoreline of Flint Creek, which traverses the Village through both public and private lands. The stated objective has been to demonstrate to private property owners, within the Village of Barrington, that these alternative approaches to shore stabilization are aesthetically pleasing, effective and result in lower maintenance.

The Village's commitment to this approach followed a 1991 symposium on Riparian Stream Management in which participants from throughout the United States sought to enlighten municipal professionals in the Chicagoland Area as to the best methods available to protect urban stream banks. Until that time, the Village had utilized traditional methods of preventing erosion on banks. As a result, the Village utilized demolished concrete removed during its annual sidewalk program and from other public improvements by dumping the debris on the shores of streams, ponds and like bodies of water.

During the course of this symposium, speakers effectively demonstrated that typical "engineering" techniques for shoreline stablization were environmentally unfriendly in many cases and not always effective. An alternative non-structural approach, utilizing natural methods was advanced, which included the planting of wetland and prairie grasses and forbes as not only an effective approach, but arguably the most cost effective approach and the most aesthetically pleasing. As a result, the Village of Barrington adopted a changed policy, with respect to shoreline stabilization. The Village's Public Works Department recommended and received approval for a demonstration project designed to show private property owners within the Village that these alternative non-structural approaches attractive, effective and resulted in lower maintenance to shoreline.

In the summer of 1992, the Village received permission to employ this alternative method from a developer who had just initiated a small 10 acre subdivision adjacent to Flint Creek. During June, the Village of Barrington planted, within the development and adjacent to the Thunderbird Golf Course, 7,000 wetland plugs or dormant wetland plants. In the fall of 1992, the Village's Public Works Department planted prairie forbes and grasses with seed on the upland areas of the affected stream banks.

Although the area within the developed subdivision is still in the earlier stages of growth, initial results are very promising. The Village was informed, at the inception of the project by experts, that at least 3 years are required for wetland plants and prairie grasses to sufficiently mature in order to maintain healthy and vigorous plant material. Each year, the Village Public Works Department, in cooperation with Citizens for Conservation, conducts "controlled burns" to remove any invasive species which are undesirable and capable of overtaking the desired plant materials.

The Village is presently giving serious consideration to taking this project one step further with the cooperation of the Village of Barrington Board of Trustees, NIPC, the Lake County Storm Water Management Commissions and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency who have committed to begin work within the publicly owned land adjacent to Flint Creek. This project may be partially funded with a grant covering a significant portion of the proposed work with construction expected to commence in the spring of 1995.

Most recently, during 1994, the Village of Barrington completed the construction of a new wetland directly adjacent to Flint Creek which receives water from one of the Village's largest storm sewer discharges. The purpose of this wetland construction was not only to further demonstrate the suitability of wetlands as an alternative non-structural approach, but also to further absorb nutrients and sediment which results in higher quality water leaving the wetland when flowing into Flint Creek. The Village of Barrington will

November 1994 / Illinois Municipal Review / Page 13

continue this course of action in public education for the foreseeable future with the hope that Flint Creek may become the natural Riparian Corridor that it once was, no longer subject to the negative aspects of urban run off and fluctuations in water quality. It is the Village's hope that the entire Corridor will be able to sustain itself in providing a clean water course and habitat in which many forms of wildlife, native to the Village of Barrington and Barrington Area, will be able to thrive.

In conclusion, it must be pointed out that the response to the wetland and prairie plantings or utilization of native vegetation, as an alternative non-structural approach, has been arguably mixed. It has been publicly stated that "one man's prairie or wetland is another man's weed patch or swamp." However it is the Village of Barrington's belief, as evidenced by the healthy and vast root systems of the plants contained in the initial projects and their continuing ability to attract wildlife that the benefits of this approach are overwhelming as compared to alternative traditional techniques. The Village of Barrington currently requires all developers, when and where appropriate, to utilize natural vegetation as it relates to detention areas and areas adjacent to Flint Creek. The Village has found that the utilization of a controlled burn once each year, which requires approximately 2 hours, is far less labor intensive and costly than mowing turf grass weekly and other forms of maintenance which do not result in stabilized shore lines.

The Village of Barrington would be pleased to share its knowledge and experience in this approach to shoreline stabilization with interested municipalities. Additional information can be obtained from the Illinois State Water Survey, Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, Illinois Department of Conservation and County Storm Water Management Agencies.

Page 14 / Illinois Municipal Review / Novermber 1994

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