The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is offering as many as 50 new grants to encourage local landowners to install rainwater collection systems on their properties.
The grants of up to $3,000 would fund projects like rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, pervious pavement and other methods that collect rainwater, known as "rainscaping."
Schools, churches, businesses, community groups and other private property owners would be eligible to apply if their projects are located in the designated focus area, mostly miles of land along the Mississippi River.
According to MSD's Principal Engineer Susan McCrary, this area's sewer system takes in both storm water and sanitary water through the same pipes to a wastewater treatment plant.
"But if we have a rain event, there's not enough capacity in those pipes to handle all of it, and so then there's combined sewer overflows, which basically is that combination of storm water and sanitary water, to the Mississippi River, and it's those overflows that we are really trying to reduce the volume of those," she said.
That's where rainscaping projects that can absorb more storm water - before it goes into the sewer system - can help reduce overflows.
"The problem we have, in pretty much any urban area, is you have a lot of surfaces that used to be able to absorb storm water that no longer can because you have rooftops, you have different pavements that won't soak up that rainwater," McCrary said. "So rainscaping techniques try to slow that rainwater down and absorb it more naturally, so it doesn't end up in our sewer system that then causes issues."
McCrary said applicants don't necessarily need to know a lot about rainscaping before applying, but will be required to attend one of four workshops before submitting their proposals. With the help of the Missouri Botanical Garden, applicants can get more information on possible projects and advice from contractors on installing a system.
"We’ll go through and talk about different rainscaping features as well. We do have the participating contractors, and those are people who do this type of work for a living and so I would encourage anybody who is interested to sign up for workshop, maybe talk to a couple contractors, get some ideas and decide that way," she said.
For example: "Just taking turf grass and changing it into something with a deeper route structure, like with native plants, also helps increase the amount of water that the ground can take," McCrary said.
The workshops will be held the days of Feb. 21 and 25 and the evenings of Feb. 26 and March 3 at MSD headquarters. Applications are due March 20, and notifications will be sent out about a month later. All projects will need to be completed by October.
McCrary said the MSD's Project Clear, which is dedicating $100 million to rainscaping projects over the next several year, already ran a preliminary grant round. Organizations including Clay Elementary School, St. Matthew the Apostle Church, and Soulard Garden Co-op successfully installed projects, McCrary said. The MSD is also working to implement larger neighborhood-scale rain gardens and cost-sharing opportunities such as installing green infrastructure in projects like the North Sarah Redevelopment Project and Cortex.
"(The grants are) just one part, but we really think that by getting people thinking about rainscaping and thinking about the relationship between rainwater and what happens in our sewer system is going to go a long way in helping the overall success of the program," McCrary said.
Project Clear is part of a broader MSD plan to improve water quality and deal with wastewater issues under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. McCrary said MSD is meeting all deadlines and requirements for that agreement, and has already made "a number of system improvements," including an above-ground tank and underground tunnel for storing storm water.