Improving Water Quality and Waterways

Openlands understands the compelling nature of water, which defines and sustains us. The health of our lakes and rivers is intimately connected to the health of our people and the health of our lands. For the last fifty years, Openlands has strengthened regulations and shaped policy at all levels of government to clean up our rivers, protect our shorelines, and give people access to the waterways flowing through their neighborhoods.

As the region’s climate changes, and we continue to grow, more frequent and intense storms rack our communities. Millions of gallons of floodwaters — contaminated with sewage, pollution, and road salt — flush into our rivers and Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for over six million people in our region.

We need to protect our most vital natural resources. Openlands connects communities and government agencies to build innovative partnerships for managing stormwater in flood-prone areas. Our urban forestry work is one of the several avenues through which we address the increased need to better capture rainwater and prevent urban flooding, as street trees function as natural water storage systems. Space to Grow © schoolyard designs incorporate stormwater management features to capture high volumes of rainwater, reducing urban flooding and preventing surface runoff from overwhelming sewer systems.

Our wetlands restoration efforts focus on improving both recreational opportunities and local green infrastructure provided by native ecological communities, which naturally capture and retain stormwater. At the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, thriving ravine ecosystems organically manage stormwater, reduce erosion, and improve the health of Lake Michigan. And we convene policymakers from the Federal to local levels to protect the Great Lakes, to explore the region’s rivers, and improve our water for generations to come.

Little Calumet River Conservation Action Plan (CAP)

The Conservation Action Plan (CAP) presents a framework for improving the health of nature and the quality of life for communities along the six-and-a-half-mile corridor of the Little Calumet River from its confluence with the Cal-Sag Channel to its confluence with the Grand Calumet River.

Natural Areas and Wetlands Restoration

Openlands wetlands restoration projects capitalize our impact by prioritizing restoration of headwater sites – the habitats that form the origins of our regions rivers and streams.

Reducing Urban Flooding

Among the most pressing needs for urban communities are plans to reduce urban flooding. Space to Grow redesigns CPS schoolyards into lush gardens and safe playgrounds that help reduce flooding.

The African American Heritage Water Trail

Explore the remarkable stories of African Americans who settled along the Little Calumet River on Chicago’s Southeast side through the African American Heritage Water Trail.

Water Advocacy and Policy

Openlands’ policy work expands upon our on-the-ground work with communities to create regional, state, and national models that shift how we value and manage water.

Paddle Illinois Water Trails

The Northeastern Illinois water trails system encompasses 10 waterways, offering a variety of experiences, ranging from creeks that flow through densely wooded forest preserves to the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago.