TRCA’s Water Garden Grant Program

In 2012, Toronto and Region Conservation received a $21,000 grant from the Ministry of the Environment’s Canada Ontario Agreement (COA) to provide financial assistance to homeowners willing to install Low Impact Development (LID) landscape projects on their properties.

The area selected for the pilot project is a 450 single detached home neighbourhood in Brampton, Ontario. The neighbourhood was selected based on each home having 2 – 4 downspouts connected to the storm drain system that empties into Etobicoke Creek.

To help reduce the volume of water entering the storm drain system and Etobicoke Creek, the Water Garden Grant Program aims to collect rainwater that falls on roofs, driveways and walkways, and direct it into a rain barrel or landscaped garden feature. Each project includes the disconnection of at least one downspout from the storm drain system.

In order to determine what LID landscape projects residents were willing to install and how much they were willing to spend, two focus group sessions were held in the neighbourhood. From those two sessions, we found that residents were most interested in rain barrels, soakaway pits or dry wells, infiltration trenches, and rain gardens. We also found out that residents in this community were willing to pay up to $500 towards landscaping work on their properties.  The grant program was designed to cover 80% of eligible project costs up to a maximum amount for each type of project that ranged from $300 for a rain barrel to $2500 for a rain garden.

A Water Garden Grant brochure was created and delivered by hand to each home in the neighbourhood. The main intent of the brochure was to direct homeowners to our website where they could read more about the program, download the application and guidelines, and contact the coordinator.

A week after the brochure was delivered, a door-knocking program was conducted to explain the project in more detail and collect homeowner information for follow-up phone calls. Information was collected from 74 homeowners, of which 12 were willing to initiate a project and are now receiving quotes from landscape contractors.

This program is the first of its kind in an urban setting in Ontario and a number of valuable lessons were learned during the process:

  • It is critical to provide an appropriate cost share grant. 100% funding for the project might result in more uptake, but little buy-in from the residents themselves. If the subsidy is too small, there may be little or no uptake.
  • Less than 5% of residents were familiar with the LID landscape projects that would be eligible for grant support. It was necessary to provide more information about the water conservation landscape technologies.
  • Despite brochure delivery, the website link for more information, and the contact information for the project coordinator, uptake was slow.  The door-to-door campaign was essential to ensure that residents were comfortable with the program and would consider participating.
  • The majority of residents were not willing to contact landscapers for quotes. Due to liability issues, TRCA was not able to recommend a preferred list of landscape contractors. Instead, TRCA contacted landscapers directly to tell them about the pilot project. Landscapers were then able to target the neighbourhood with their company advertising, providing a means for residents to contact them directly and arrange a quote. In hindsight, it would be better to start the process with a workshop for the service providers.
  • Other challenges with the pilot project included language barriers, disgruntled residents, extremely avid gardeners not open to new landscaping projects, and residents that wanted to do the work on their own and not hire a contractor.

At the culmination of this project in the spring of 2013, TRCA is planning a tour of participating properties to garner more attention from neighbours and promote the opportunity to undertake similar programs in other neighbourhoods.

Article provided by Cliff Coppolino, Stewardship Coordinator, Toronto and Region Conservation (416-661-6600 ext.5748, or ccoppolino@trca.on.ca).

 

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