ALTON – Members of the community noticed a problem with the greenhouses at Senior Services Plus (SSP) and are now working toward repairing it.

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SSP's greenhouses, which grow between 15,000-20,000 pounds of food a year for use in Meals on Wheels meals as well as for a method to raise funds for that senior program, were built atop a hill on the grounds of the organization. Because of that placement, water from the greenhouses and related structures would run from the top of the hill to a stream at its bottom. This troubling trend was noticed by Tom Rhanor of Monsanto, who volunteers at the greenhouse, which was assisted in its construction by Monsanto grants.

A soil scientist by education, Rhanor noticed the erosion was being caused by water flow. His wife, Allison Rhanor, who works as the education director for the National Great Rivers Research Center, is a stream ecologist by training, and realized this erosion from the center and greenhouses was causing water quality to decrease. She said she and her husband discussed this problem and thought of ways to fix it.

“We wanted to help [SSP Executive Director] John Becker worry about just feeding the seniors, and we wanted to look into some grant funding,” Allison Rhanor said. “We were going to work on it on our weekends, but we took it to the organizations we work for, and they said they would pay us to work on it. Projects like this are exactly the sort of things we should be working to make happen.”

The Rhanors worked on the grant-writing aspect of the project with the help of Becker and submitted it for review by Illinois American Water. Allison Rhanor said Illinois American Water had funded a similar grant for another project on which she was working in the past, and thought it would be a good fit for the issue identified at SSP.

That grant was funded to the tune of $3,500, and that money is going to be used to mitigate erosion and threats to water quality issues from both the greenhouses and the proposed expansion of the center, which would add more parking space. That additional space will cause even more water to run down the hill.

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With that money, Scott Moss of Lewis and Clark Community College, which also oversees the National Great Rivers Education Center, will be designing and implementing a rain-catch garden. That garden will be built at the bottom of the hill to redirect water flowing downwards. Allison Rhanor said Moss would utilize some of the welding students at Lewis and Clark Community College to also help with its construction.

Allison Rhanor said the construction of the first phase of the rain garden may be complete by summer's end, and it would stand as an example for people and organizations undergoing construction and renovation. Both Rhanors said environmental impact should be more of a factor in construction plans and projects. If the erosion was considered earlier in the process, it may have already been mitigated.

“It's been kind of a struggle ongoing, gosh, for a while actually,” Becker said. “We've had that problem for a while when we put in the high tunnel where winter crops are grown. We've struggled with it for a while. We are just really happy and lucky to get to a point and time to get to a project that will attack this problem on a permanent basis and address our expansion as well.”

Tom Rhanor said Monsanto will help with the grant implementation through volunteers working toward its implementation as well as possibly helping propagate plants for free for use in Moss's garden design.

Moss said the retention garden will hold about a foot of water with a steel, "V" notched weir, which will act as a way to hold storm water, which will prevent erosion and sediment entering Wood River Creek.

The garden planted will contain native plants, but Moss said it will not be "wild." He said taller wetland plants will be installed near the bottom, closer to the creek, and flowering plants will be added more as it grows up the hill.

"People on the news are always wondering why places like Valley Park and especially Eureka are flooding, and the answer is simple," Moss said. "With rooftops and parking lots, the goal is to take storm water from the surface as fast as they can. But, that just pushes the problem further down the river."

When completed, Moss said the retention weird and rain garden should effectively decrease erosion and assist with improving the water quality, or at least decrease the negative impact SSP may have otherwise had on that quality.

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