Green conferences, smart water collection and crafty coyotes

February 19, 2012

MELA celebrates 10 years of making green greener

It was ten years ago that organic landscape designer Connie Cunningham pretty much grabbed me by the lapels and said, “We need to start an ecological landscaping organization!” As I gently removed what remained of my collar from her surprisingly strong grip, I asked why. She told me that too many landscapers and their companies did not understand that, in many ways, the so-called “green industry” was not particularly sustainable.

When I said that the two of us should call a few of our colleagues and see if they were interested in such a group, she said, “You’re the media guy! You make the calls!” As you can probably guess, nobody says no to Connie Cunningham. Thus was born the Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association (or MELA to its friends, enemies and uninterested parties alike.)

For almost half of that time, the fledgling not-for-profit organization lived on my various laptop computers–including the one that crashed. Mercifully, I was able to recover the files, thanks to a brilliant but emotionally unstable computer geek (long story–buy me a beer if you want ever want to hear it.)

Having me at the helm of an organization with such an imporant mission might seem to be less than desireable. But one of the things we did absolutely right was to start putting together annual conferences that brought together like-minded people to learn from sustainability experts and to discuss where the movement was going.

Fast forward to this year and the MELA 10th Annual Conference 2012 – Balance: Natural Systems and the Built Environment, Thursday, February 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at University Center of Lake County at The College of Lake County, 1200 University Center Drive, Grayslake, IL. MELA Executive Director Carol Becker and board member Amy Beltemacchi stop by the new WCPT studios to talk about this milestone conference in the history of an organization that seems to be doing very well…now that I’m not part of the day to day operations.

Whether you’re a landscape designer, a contractor, a grower, a supplier, you work for a nursery, you’re an educator, or you’re just interested in how you can become more sustainabile in your own backyard, you should sign up for the conference here. Among the tracks in the conference are

  • Ecology and Land Health
  • Built Environment and Resources
  • Local Food and Productive Landscapes
  • Business Growth and Tech Roll-Out

Click here for a complete conference schedule.

Who’ll catch the rain?

Speaking of sustainability and making the most of our resources, did you know that 31 billion gallons of rain falls every year on Chicago’s roofs? And that capturing only half of it would supply enough water for over 200,000 people?

These and other fascinating statistics are part of a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called Capturing Rainwater from Rooftops. In it, the NRDC looks at capturing rain water as a “green infrastructure” practice in the U.S. that could supply millions of gallons of water for non-potable uses such as yard watering and toilet flushing. The study also notes that such capture would reduce runoff pollution and lower energy costs associated with treating and delivering water to millions of households.

I have long been aware that we in America abuse this precious resource (including me, to be sure.) Water demand in the United States is among the highest in the world, averaging 100 to 165 gallons per person per day—or as much as 4 times more than in some European countries (now why is that not surprising?)

More facts from the report :

  • 270 billion gallons of water are used each week to water 23 million acres of lawn(!) in the United States, at a cost of $40 billion annually
  • Every day, 6 billion gallons of drinking water daily–or more than 2 trillion each year—is flushed directly down the toilet, and along with it the money and energy used to treat and deliver the water.
  • The average cost of water in the United States is $3.53 per 1,000 gallons,7 ranging from $0.94 to $8.50 per 1,000 gallons. One cent can buy anywhere from 1.2 to 10.6 gallons of tap water. By comparison, a 20-ounce bottle of water selling for $1.50 costs the equivalent of $9,600 for 1,000 gallons—2,700 times the average cost of tap water.
  • A consequence of the underpricing of water is that water service as a public utility is frequently undervalued. A Government Accountability Office survey of utilities found that user fees and other funding sources do not generate enough revenue to cover the full cost of providing service in 29 percent of water utilities.

One of the co-authors of the study is Noah Garrison, lead author of the report and NRDC water policy analyst, who appears on the program this morning. He and his fellow researchers suggest capturing rooftop rainwater as a simple, cost-effective way to practice sustainability. The benefits include

  • Inexpensive, on-site supply of water that can be used for outdoor non-potable uses with little, if any, treatment, or for a variety of additional uses including potable supply with appropriately higher levels of treatment
  • Reduced (or no) energy and economic costs associated with treating and delivering potable water to end users because capture systems often use low-volume, non-pressurized, gravity fed systems or require only the use of a low power pump for supply
  • Reduced strain on existing water supply sources
  • Reduced runoff that would otherwise contribute to stormwater flows, a leading cause of surface water pollution and urban flooding

As climate change begins to be felt on a great scale across America and, indeed, across the globe, the water security of millions will depend on developing new laws and technologies to meet the challenge. Collecting free water from our own rooftops is a practical and seemingly effecient start. The time to begin is now.

Are coyotes really wily? Find out at WPPC’s seminar

I had the privilege of speaking at the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee’s annual “Tending the Earth” seminar several years ago. They haven’t invited me back, but I’m sure they have very good reasons. If you’ve ever listened to my radio show, you know what I’m talking about.This year, the good folks at WPPC in McHenry County are presenting their 20th annual Natural Landscaping Seminar on Saturday, February 25, and, as always, it looks as though it’s going to be a great event.

The one talk that caught my eye is “Coyotes: Learn the Facts, and Dispel the Myths,” which will be presented by Chris Anchor, Cook County Forest Preserve District Field Biologist. I tracked him down the other day (much like a coyote) and he told me to take a look at a very cool site called The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project.

If you visit it, you will learn that coyotes, which have been called the “ghosts of the plains”, have now also become ghosts of the cities…including Chicago. The Cook County Coyote Project is a comprehensive study of coyotes in Chicago metropolitan areas. Its researchers work with various agencies to capture, collar, and monitor coyotes in order to understand how they live in urban areas as well as interact with other wildlife and domestic animals. Among their findings:

  • As a top predator, coyotes are performing an important role in the Chicago region. Increasing evidence indicates that coyotes assist with controlling deer, rodents and Canada goose populations.
  • Most coyotes are feeding on typical prey items, such as rodents and rabbits, and generally avoid trash. However, wildlife feeding will eventually habituate some coyotes, leading to conflicts.
  • Coyotes are exposed to a wide range of diseases; however, to date none of them pose a serious human health risk. In general, the coyote population appears to be relatively healthy.
  • espite the importance of natural habitat for coyotes, some individuals are capable of maintaining territories in portions of the landscape with minimal or no natural areas and elevated human activity.

Which means that even if you can’t see them, they can see you. Isn’t that comforting? Chris Anchor joins me on today’s show to talk about these mysterious predators.

Also joining me is the WPPC’s Nancy Gonsiorek, who highlights the other speakers at this year’s conference. She notes that the WPPC is celebrating its own homeowner mentoring program, “100 Natural Yards: Bringing Nature Home to McHenry County.”  If that isn’t enough for you, educators can earn 6.25 CPDU continuing education credit hours for attending the program.

The seminar is at McHenry County College Conference Center, from 8:15 to 3:45.  Cost is $30 in advance or $35 at the door, and includes lunch.  For downloadable registration, agenda,  and more information, click here.  Additional questions? Call Nancy Gonsiorek at 815.455-9462.

Growing Power’s 10th Anniversary in Chicago

Another event that is happening on the same day as the WPPC seminar is a workshop and networking event that celebrates Growing Power‘s 10-year anniversary of food justice work in Chicago. The event is on Saturday, February 25th at their new Chicago Growing Power headquarters: Iron Street Urban Farm, a formerly abandoned, 7-acre industrial building on the Chicago River.

There will be a hands-on aquaponics workshop at the event, on closed-loop natural systems that grow fish and plants together, as well as tours of the Iron Street Farm ever hour, To cap it off, there’s a happy hour, where and appetizers from our compost partners will be served.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday, February 25th, 1:00-6:00pm
Growing Power’s Iron Street Farm – 3333 S. Iron Street, Chicago, IL 60608
Cost:     $10 for a Tour
$15 for Happy Hour
$20 for Tour + Happy Hour
$75 for Aquaponics Workshop + Tour (1:00pm-5:00pm)
$80 for Aquaponics Workshop + Tour + Happy Hour

To purchase tickets ahead of time, visit Brown Paper Tickets. Also check out the event Facebook page.