La Crosse stormwater group wants to honor projects that control runoff, beautify

2020 Soak Award
Kurt and Renee Knutson, co-winners with the First Congregational Church of the 2020 Soak It UP! Award, bought a flat, barren piece of land in the middle of their neighborhood in 2017 turned it into a sustainable oasis that absorbs runoff naturally. It solved a runoff problem in their yard, as well as water in neighbors' basements. (La Cross Urban Stormwater Group photo)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — The La Crosse Urban Stormwater Group is accepting nominations for its fourth annual Soak it Up! Award, which honors businesses, nonprofits and homeowners who reduce stormwater runoff.
In addition to reducing runoff from properties in the La Crosse urban area, projects also beautify neighborhoods, show neighbors how to craft solutions and inspire more local work.
Any project that alters the landscape to hold and absorb stormwater and naturally filter out pollutants is eligible. Examples include hard surface runoff reduction; excavation and grading of soil to direct and infiltrate water; pervious pavement and underground water storage and infiltration systems; construction of swales, berms, dry creek beds, rain gardens, rock breaks and bio-filters, and planting native species that absorb water and reduce runoff.
The organization named co-winners for the first time last year: Kurt and Renee Knutson and First Congregational Church.
After years watching a river of runoff flow through their yard and hearing neighbors complain about water in basements, the Knutsons bought a flat, barren piece of land in the middle of their neighborhood in 2017 and began to turn it into a sustainable oasis that absorbs runoff naturally.
“We were wowed by the change in the property and the final results,” Renee said. “It was exciting to see the field morph from a flat, uncared for space to a beautiful, thoughtful ‘green’ space with dimension.”
What started as a project to control runoff and create an area where the dogs can run, became a naturalized property with three rain gardens, multiple berms and swales, hundreds of native plants, natural rock features and dry creek beds.
The runoff stream through the Knutsons’ yard is gone, and water in neighboring basements no longer is an issue. The couple also added solar panels to the property to further reduce their environmental footprint.
First Congregational Church relied on a sump pump to control excess stormwater on the property. But if the pump failed or rain was too heavy, runoff came through door thresholds, seeped into the boiler room and created a pond on the lawn.
Staff and church members realized that extreme weather events seem to be occurring more often than in the past, and they expected more frequent, bigger water problems.
The congregation’s 2020 construction project included mitigating a depression in the lawn and building a biofilter rain garden around an existing drain to help runoff soak in naturally and filter pollutants. Native forbs and grasses were planted to improve soil and increase absorption with deep root systems.
The project also included some regrading and building a concrete diversion curb to keep water from flowing down a wall directly to the boiler room.
Nominations are invited from residential, business or nonprofit stormwater management projects within the bounds of the cities of La Crosse, La Crescent and Onalaska; the towns of Campbell, Holland, Onalaska, and Shelby, and the villages of Holmen and West Salem.
Nominations can be made at the organization’s website, a regional water education resource that also features information about managing runoff and how to complete stormwater projects on urban land.