WESTLAKE — About 1,000 visitors from school-age kids to seniors are expected at Westlake's eighth annual Rain and Garden Show from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at Market Square in Crocker Park.

City Engineer Bob Kelly, whose department plans the event, remembers that 15 years ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city to create a stormwater management program to reduce pollutants flowing north into Lake Erie.

He was confident he knew how to meet those responsibilities. However, the unfunded mandate also directed him to educate citizens about their role in stormwater pollution prevention. The engineer recalled asking himself, "How am I gonna educate the public?"

Kelly said Westlake was experiencing explosive residential and business development at that time, so he understood the government's interest. Undeveloped areas of Westlake had no sewers. As building progressed, stormwater permits were issued and retention basins were created alongside new housing, shopping centers and commercial-industrial sites.

Those retention basins serve as "nature's kidney" because they slow down the amount of water that flows into 150 miles of seven streams meandering through the city's six watersheds before reaching Lake Erie. Slowing the water allows sediment to settle. Kelly said every drop of water from residents' yards, businesses, streets and parking lots eventually ends up in a stream. This untreated water contains fertilizer, pesticides, motor oil from cars and trucks and animal feces.

Kelly formed the Westlake Watershed Group, residents who meet quarterly to discuss sustainability ideas and receive updates from the city about its efforts. Over the years, they added signage to the city's streams, even sponsoring a contest to name one of them, hoping residents would take pride of ownership and stop dumping clippings and other debris into them.

They hold a stream cleanup each May, sponsor an organic fertilizer campaign and provide information to residents about composting, recycling, washing your car with minimal environmental impact and other sustainability matters. They initiated a "Show Your Green Pride" campaign urging residents to provide pictures of how they are "going green." Residents then receive a “Go Green for Westlake, For the World” sign to display in their yard.

Sue Engle, who started the stream cleanup, is a member of the Watershed Group. She said it’s “important to be aware that we all have an impact on our city and its drinking water." It doesn't take much time to stop using highly polluting plastics, she said. For example, she uses washable steel straws instead of plastic ones. She encourages everyone to recycle. "Little things can inspire you to do a little more," she said.

More recently, Kelly and staff began to create nature preserves by capturing millions of gallons of stormwater connected via multiple basins. Dover Creek Nature Preserve, completed last year, is situated on 20 acres, running parallel to Crocker Road, south of Center Ridge Road. The public can view it from a platform behind Evergreen Cemetery or walk the area, which has a compact dirt path.

Kelly said the push to create the larger basins occurred after the city hired Cuyahoga County Soil Conservation Services to inspect the water quality of Westlake’s 350 water retention basins. Some were in poor shape, largely because those responsible for maintaining them — including homeowners associations and business owners — were not aware of their obligations. He said they found shopping carts and tires in several. Many required dredging as well as removal of invasive plants like Garlic Mustard. The city has now completed restoration projects including Dover Creek at Southbridge and Columbia Creeks.

The Rain and Garden Show held each spring was another way of raising public awareness, Kelly said. City employees, nonprofits and businesses will share information about organic lawn care, beekeeping, chemical-free gardening, recycling, pond management and clean tap water. A kids' zone, open from 11 a.m-1 p.m., features face painting, a balloon clown and presentation by Michael Roy's Cirque du Papier. Winners of four conservation-related contests for school children will be announced. The free event is sponsored by the city of Westlake and Westlake Watershed Group.

"Together we can make a difference in improving the quality of life by preserving the environment,” Kelly said. “Clean and sustainable waterways are everyone’s responsibility. The Rain and Garden Show provides a great opportunity for education and dialogue about our local ecosystem.”

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