Left Justified: Floods versus wetlands

You were under water if you lived in low-lying areas, especially along Keith Creek. Your basement may have gotten a little wet, to say the least. At worst, your car floated down the driveway.

A 100-year flood now happens every 20 or 30 years. And it will happen more, thanks to paving over creeks, prairies and wetlands. Pavement does not soak up water. Neither do lawns.

So what do our city fathers propose for safeguarding the property of their citizens? If you work for Rockford Blacktop, the first thing you would like to propose is building a dam. One of those big ones with tons of cement.

You could also propose paving all of Keith Creek from Perryville to the Rock River. That way, when it rains, there’ll be a race and raging rapids, taking the water swiftly to the downtown. Why, we could sell inner tube rides, at least for those few hours of raging waters.

Environmentalists, of course, are usually tsk-tsking on the sidelines. No one asks them what they would suggest. They always have dumb things to say like “see, we told you not to destroy that wetland.” Green activists would, if asked, suggest some low-cost and low-maintenance flood control systems like greenways and wetlands (sorry, pavement pushers), which would not require yards of concrete.

The more wetlands, with lots of green things growing, may mean the less chance that the water will race toward the river. Instead, wetlands act like a sponge to hold back most of the overflow. Of course, it is more beautiful than a concrete drainage ditch and costs a lot less, so no one on the city council will propose it.

Environmentalists say there should be more naturally vegetated buffers along rivers and streams. This is more healthy and economical, and it adds a bit of garden quality to the east-side concrete jungle. Something the developers don’t seem to like, except around their own abodes.

Protected green space, such as prairies, plants along creek beds and other vegetated buffers, are the best flood insurance possible. By preserving these areas, you lessen the chance of raging water rushing through ditches and inundating the lowlands. Green spaces improve property values because they look pretty.

Seriously, wouldn’t you rather purchase a home next to a small park than next to a parking lot? The more parking lots, the less chance the water will seep into the ground. Lawns are almost as bad as parking lots. The permeability of sod is almost as bad as asphalt. Wetlands reduce soil erosion and protect the water quality of the rivers and streams and, therefore, the wildlife has a better chance of thriving.

Parking lots are collectors of oil drippings and other chemical nastinesses that, when it rains, is washed into our aquifers. All these new shopping malls and housing developments should have conservation design principles that should be enforced by our city and county codes. But the city is too busy counting sales taxes to worry about pretty plants.

Rockford’s parks and forest preserves, primarily along the river and creek corridors, are the foundation of our protected greenway system. We need to acquire more land and then manage it correctly. The water slide is fun, but if you saw the water slide through Keith Creek, you kinda had a different experience.

The BlackHawk Sierra Club is hosting a Candidates’ Forum Monday, Sept. 25, at 7:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, 4848 Turner St. All of the statewide candidates are welcome, and we will have more information about flood control. Elections are a good time to ask candidates what they’ve done for the environment. You are welcome to attend.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Sept. 13-19, 2006, issue

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