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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Water professionals from across the world continued a popular tradition of arriving early to an international conference to participate in a service project.

This year, the talented group of volunteers held a Water Palooza educational fair and constructed a rain garden at O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy, 6024 W. Warwick Ave., Chicago, on Sept. 29 and 30 as the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) returned to Chicago.

The Water Environment Federation’s (WEF’s) Students and Young Professionals Community (SYPC) worked in conjunction with O.A. Thorp staff and Friends of Thorp to bring this year’s festival and project to fruition to manage stormwater onsite, improve area water quality and create an attractive place to play and visit. It also serves as an engaging educational resource for students in grades kindergarten through eighth, fostering their understanding of water systems, environmental dynamics, and the significance of sustainable green infrastructure.

The new rain garden and permeable pavers will be able to capture 10,250 gallons of water every time it rains. In addition to the stormwater benefits, the rain garden will host an array of native plants that attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. These plants will create a mini-ecosystem where students can learn about the importance of biodiversity and the vital role of insects in our environment.

“A rain garden at a school is more than just a patch of nature; it’s a living lesson in environmental stewardship,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “By managing water runoff and mitigating flooding, it showcases the power of nature-inspired solutions. But its true magic lies in how it nurtures young minds, cultivating a deep connection to the earth and fostering a generation of eco-conscious leaders.”
While the rain garden is teeming with life, it is designed for easy maintenance. Native plants are adapted to the local climate and require minimal care, making it a practical addition to the school’s grounds.
The garden construction came one day after O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy students, teachers, and parents participated in “Water Palooza,” a fun-filled day of engaging, hands-on environmental activities provided by nearly 20 water companies and organizations, the MWRD, Cook County Forest Preserves and the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office.

The annual WEFTEC convention alternates each year between the host cities of Chicago and New Orleans, providing educational opportunities and merging the best minds in the science of water management while also boosting economic opportunity and service at the host cities.

O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy is a Chicago public school that serves more than 840 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The students live city-wide.

“This year’s project is aptly titled, ‘Today’s Water Students, Tomorrow’s Water Leaders’,” said Efren Toledo, Thorp’s Principal. “We are thrilled to have the support of WEF and their volunteers to provide a fun and educational day for our students. Through the opportunity to interact with engineers, scientists and other water professionals, our students will have a unique opportunity to learn about the value of water, water reuse and our local water environment.”

“As a parent and member of the Thorp community, I am excited for the opportunity to remediate our flooding issues, as well as continue to keep our playground and east lot areas safe for the students,” said Melissa Lecher, President of Friends of Thorp. “We greatly appreciate the skills, energy, and knowledge provided by WEFTEC participants to help us transform this problematic area into a beautiful new green space and rain garden.”

Since the first rain garden was constructed in 2008, hundreds of volunteers have built green infrastructure projects that capture and store stormwater runoff. Previous rain garden projects constructed in Chicago over the past 10 years include Saucedo Academy in 2019, Manierre Elementary in 2017, Pershing East Magnet School in 2015, and Haines Elementary in 2013. More than 660,000 square feet of school property have been improved, nine bioswales were designed, eight rain gardens were constructed with 12,246 plants, 24,866 gallons of stormwater are retained per rain event, and five outdoor classrooms were constructed.

“WEF’s vision is life free of water challenges, and we’re committed to helping solve those challenges in WEFTEC host cities,” said Ifetayo Venner, President of WEF’s Board of Trustees. “Besides its practical benefits, the O.A. Thorp rain garden project provides a fantastic opportunity for WEF’s Students and Young Professionals to connect with members of the community, educate them about water issues, and show them how working in the water sector can be a rewarding and valuable career option.”

The activities provide an invaluable way for WEF to give back to the WEFTEC host city through grassroots solutions that promote environmental stewardship and help raise awareness about the value and importance of water, which is one of WEF’s strategic objectives.

About WEF
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of more than 30,000 individual members and 75 affiliated Member Associations representing water quality professionals around the world. Established in 1928, WEF’s mission is to inspire the water community in pursuit of human and environmental well-being. WEF’s goals are to attract and develop a passionate workforce, cultivate a purpose-driven community to sustainably solve water challenges for all, and lead the transformation to the circular water economy. Learn more at

Press Release
Education, Events, Stormwater

Established in 1889, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is an award-winning, special purpose government agency responsible for wastewater treatment and stormwater management in Cook County, Illinois.


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