Valpo stormwater project breaks ground
By James D. WOlf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent September 11, 2012 5:06PM
Mayor Jon Costas chats with Tika Hyde following a groundbreaking ceremony at the Thorgren Basin in Valparaiso Tuesday Sept. 11, 2012. Hyde is the Environmental Protection Agency director of the water for region 5. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:40PM
VALPARAISO — As any raindrop sends ripples through the entire puddle it hits, so the city broke ground for a storm water project that will affect the quality of Knode Creek/Smith Ditch and into its destinations of Sand Creek and Lake Michigan.
Valparaiso, regional and federal officials stuck their shovels into the ground of the Thorgren Basin on the west side of Roosevelt Road, just south of Evans Avenue, on Tuesday, beginning a $515,000 project to improve water going into Sand Creek.
The project will create two permanent ponds to hold the water and curve the ditch that runs through the 2-acre basin, rather than rush the water into the water table.
Native plants with long roots will also help clean and cool the water, removing oil, chemicals and sediments that storm water picks up in developed areas, in this case, about 500 acres of land.
“What we do on the land that drains to Lake Michigan impacts water quality in a big way,” Jennifer Birchfield, water program director for Save the Dunes, said.
“Pollution that washes off the land with precipitation is one of the main threats to the Great Lakes today,” Birchfield said.
The plan is to have Thorgren Basin mimic a wetland, and native plants will filter water as the land holds it a bit longer.
The native plants won’t need constant mowing and will bloom in bright colors, and the basin will provide refuge for wildlife, she said.
Mayor Jon Costas said the number of partners in the project show “that is the way we get things done, is through partnerships.”
Costas said, “Our citizens really appreciate the effort we put into caring about the environment.”
Save the Dunes got the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant for $473,000 for the project from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Valparaiso is contributing about $126,000, including design services and other work, deputy city engineer Adam McAlpine said.
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission each pledged $20,000 to go to the public access areas where people can study and appreciate the area from behind a wooden fence.
Thorgren Industries also contributed to the project, which is adjacent to some of its buildings.
This project and Valparaiso’s similar Wall Street detention basin improvements are new enough initiatives that other municipalities will come to see how to retrofit existing properties for this, said Tinka Hyde, water division director for EPA Region 5.
McAlpine said to test how it works, water samples were taken as a baseline.
In late April, 42 Thomas Jefferson Middle School worked with Valparaiso University and Ivy Tech Community College students in making initial tests of water, soil drainage, and flora and fauna in the basin.