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Chi–Cal Rivers Fund Announces $1.1 Million in Grants

Press release from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation

Public–private partnership funds five projects to improve stormwater management, habitat, and green space in Chicago/Calumet region

CHICAGO, Illinois – Today, Chi-Cal Rivers Fund partners announced five projects selected to receive $1.1 million in grant funding that will help improve and enhance waterways in the Chicago and Calumet region. With a focus on reducing stormwater runoff, enhancing fish and wildlife habitat, and improving public-use opportunities, this investment will support community-driven projects that benefit the people and wildlife of the region. Grant recipients will match the new grant funding with an additional $2.5 million, for a total on-the-ground impact of $3.6 million.

Administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Fund is a partnership among ArcelorMittal, The Chicago Community Trust, Crown Family Philanthropies, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Joyce Foundation, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Wrigley Company Foundation. The partnership began in 2013, and the $1.1 million announced today marks the Fund’s second annual set of grants.

“The projects being funded by the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund are making lasting contributions to the water environment, and the MWRD is a proud partner in this effort,” said MWRD President Kathleen Meany.

“The Wrigley Company Foundation is proud to participate in this important public–private partnership, which is focused on enhancing one of Chicago’s prime waterways,” said Maureen Jones, Executive Director of the Wrigley Company Foundation. “Wrigley has made its home along the Chicago River for nearly a century and we realize the vital role it plays in the continued economic strength of the city. We are pleased to see this second year of projects being awarded, which will help to further develop the Chicago and Calumet waterways.”

“These projects will help revitalize local waterways and benefit communities throughout the region,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Thanks to the collaboration and support of our program partners, this work will result in cleaner water, healthier fish and wildlife populations, and better outdoor opportunities for the people who live here.”

The five grants announced today will help improve stormwater management in the cities of Gary, Ind. and Blue Island, Ill., add public park space in Chicago, enhance prairie and wetland habitat along the north branch of the Chicago River, and improve fish habitat in the main stem of the Chicago River. Collectively, the funded projects will:

  1. install more than 242,000 square feet of green stormwater infrastructure

  2. add more than 2.9 million gallons of stormwater storage capacity

  3. add 4 acres of new public park space

  4. restore and enhance 178 acres of wetland and upland habitat

  5. improve approximately 4,600 feet of in-stream and riparian habitat

City of Gary will use a grant for $259,263 to install 43,200 square feet of green stormwater infrastructure at 27 public sites throughout the city. The project will install 50 vegetated bioswales, a large community rain garden, a small roadside rain garden, a school-based natural habitat exploration area, and three neighborhood green spaces. In addition, the project will remove 22,950 square feet of impervious surface, plant 85 native trees, and install 200 rain barrels. Altogether, this work will add 1.4 million gallons of stormwater retention within the Grand Calumet River Area of Concern. In addition to signficantly reducing problems associated with stormwater runoff, this project will expand neighborhood green space, raise public awareness of stormwater management issues, and build support for green stormwater infrastructure.

South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association will receive $235,295 in grant funding to construct 6 acres of wetlands that will add 1.5 million gallons of stormwater retention in the city of Blue Island. Part of the larger Calumet River Corridor Green Infrastructure Flood Mitigation Program, the project will remove contaminated soils, eliminate dominant invasive plant species, and plant native vegetation. The project will employ students who have graduated from technical environmental training programs, such as Greencorps Chicago, and it will engage local residents to help them learn about the value of green infrastructure. By providing a regional wetland detention system, this project will enable greater on-site stormwater infiltration, increase native habitat, reduce flooding, and illustrate how green infrastructure solutions can promote economic development.

Chicago Park District will use a $259,000 grant to develop a new 4-acre riverfront park along the south branch of the Chicago River. The new park will be located in the Bridgeport community, which is in need of additional park land. The goal of the project is to improve river access, recreational opportunities, and stormwater management to create a waterway that is accessible and desirable for recreation. The project will create a variety of visitor amenities, including a boat launch, dock, pathways, benches, lighting, and landscaped areas for activities such as picnicking and field sports. The new park will also include 25,000 square feet of stormwater management features such as rain gardens, bio-retention areas, permeable surfaces, and native plantings. As part of the network of new riverside developments, the new park will enhance the existing foundation for a working Chicago River blueway system.

Lake County Forest Preserve District will use $171,442 in grant funding to restore 178 acres along the north branch of the Chicago River at Middlefork Savanna, one of the most important sites for biodiversity in northeast Illinois. Project activities will include regrading and replanting 1,980 feet of riverbank, disabling drain tiles to restore the hydrology in 15 acres of wetlands and adjacent prairies, clearing invasive trees across 64 acres, and seeding and planting 105 acres of prairies and wetlands. Project partners will collaborate across ownership boundaries to coordinate land management activities, including prescribed burning and other invasive species removal. This work will help reduce erosion and flooding, create more-natural hydrology that will aid the long-term control of invasive species, and improve the condition of a large contiguous grassland zone that supports many prairie and wetland birds.

Friends of the Chicago River will use a $175,000 grant to install 33 in-stream habitat structures and substrates that will enhance populations of fish and other aquatic life along a half-mile reach of the Chicago River main stem. Project participants will fabricate and install several innovative structural designs on seawalls and other edifices in the river to accommodate the needs of fish at various life-cycle stages. The substrates and structures will provide a foundation for the establishment of desirable plants, algae and macroinvertebrates as well as resting and foraging habitat for largemouth bass, yellow bullhead, bluegill, green sunfish and other fish. By adding structural complexity, spawning habitat, food resources, and refuge, this project will make the river system in downtown Chicago more hospitable to many fish species and lead to improved angling opportunities for local communities.

Chi-Cal Rivers Fund partners plan to announce the next Request for Proposals in June 2015. For more information, please visit and follow the program on Twitter (@ChiCalRivers).

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