Well Farm Stormwater Management Project - Peoria, Illinois

The city of Peoria, Illinois is aiming to eliminate combined sewer overflows and fully meet its federal water quality requirements through green infrastructure approaches, including transforming vacant lots into stormwater parks, installing “zero-runoff” green and complete streets, and implementing a stormwater utility fee. Much of the city’s combined sewer system is within the historically disinvested South Side area of the city, which has high unemployment rates and struggles with higher rates of chronic health issues. To demonstrate feasibility of a green-infrastructure-centered compliance approach, the city has developed multiple pilot projects that have demonstrated positive benefit-to-cost ratios, job opportunities, stormwater control, and other benefits. One of the pilot projects, the Well Farm on the South Side, involved a partnership with Greenprint Partners to turn a vacant city-owned lot into a garden that captures stormwater and grows products for harvest, including timber and fresh produce.

In the summer of 2018, Peoria, launched one of the first stormwater farms in the country. Working with Greenprint Partners, a green infrastructure delivery partner, Peoria’s Well Farm at Voris Field transformed vacant land in one of the country’s poorest zip codes into a farm that collects stormwater runoff, which now also provides the community with access to fresh food. Through the PeoriaCorps’ paid apprenticeship program, young adults from the community learn about green infrastructure, cultivating produce, and general business principles through maintenance of the Well Farm. In coordinating these efforts, the Well Farm stormwater management program has been able to divert an estimated 1.3 million gallons of stormwater from entering an already overburdened sewer system annually, trained local youth on green infrastructure, and provided the community with access to clean, organic food sources. 

The Well Farm Stormwater Management Project was developed in Voris Field primarily to benefit what is historically a disadvantaged area of the City. In Peoria, most of the sewer system where stormwater collected and often overflowed is in South Side, which already had high levels of disease and unemployment, in addition to the City’s largest food desert. Before the implementation of the Stormwater Management Program, South Side was also the neighborhood mostly profoundly impacted by both sewer overflows, as well as flooding.

To determine what would help this neighborhood the most, the City partnered with Greenprint Partners and PeoriaCorps to engage directly with the community and its stakeholders through tools like design workshops, public meetings, surveys, and other methods. The City also made sure to partner with a local faith-based non-profit (The GITM Foundation), which was already known and trusted by the community. Through these meetings and workshops, city planners learned that among the most critical aspects of any project were that it had to create jobs for locals, generate a safe gathering space for community members, and increase access to healthy, local produce.

To address these requests, the City and its partners designed and constructed the Well Farm at Voris Field. The project converted 1.6 acres of a vacant lot into green space, which now serves as a stormwater farm. Within the Farm, hybrid poplar trees, agricultural planter beds, and other green infrastructure work to capture stormwater runoff within the South Side community and the combined sewer system located there. Additionally, to provide job opportunities within the community, the GITM Foundation runs an apprenticeship program, which hires up to 20 youth and adults a year. The program not only trains participants on how to cultivate, harvest, and sell the fresh products grown using hands-on training within the Farm’s gardens, but educates the community on the benefits of green infrastructure as well.

This Stormwater Program was funded through both federal and local financing programs. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture first awarded the City and Greenprint Partners (and other collaborating organizations) with $1 million in funding to design and implement the stormwater management project. In response, private partnerships, grants, and fundraising efforts raised an additional $1 million in matching funds. As for the impact Well Farm has had on the community, recently, “an impact report by Earth Economics found the farm’s generated $2.8 million dollars in economic output in the county, 29 full-time equivalent jobs, and $1.5 dollars in economic activity in the county for every $1 invested.”

Publication Date: May 2018

Related Organizations:

  • City of Peoria, Illinois

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  • Best practice
  • Engagement
  • Project

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