Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. A new program in the Chicago suburbs works on that principle by getting residents to help with the heavy work of improving the village's stormwater system.

In a pilot program launched in May, Glenview, Ill., is offering cash rewards to citizens who install rain gardens on their property.

“We started this because private property owners were expressing a lot of complaints and concerns relating to drainage,” says Joe Kenney, Glenview's assistant director of Capital Projects, the department that administers the program. “Rain gardens address that problem.”

The design is relatively simple—dig a depression about 3 feet deep, add a layer of gravel, top with a soil/sand mixture, and install native plants—but the benefits are significant. In addition to alleviating drainage difficulties, rain gardens filter stormwater, lowering the cost of managing a stormwater system and treating effluent.

Glenview elected officials wanted to encourage rain gardens but knew there were obstacles. One, rain gardens carry a relatively high price tag: about $1500 for 200 square feet. Also, it takes up to three years for the vegetation to establish. To that end, the city decided to reimburse residents for half the cost of their rain-garden investment up to $1000.

The program is partly modeled on a similar one in Rock Island, Ill. Two years ago, the public works department in the Mississippi River town of about 39,000 residents started offering $4 a square foot, and a monthly stormwater utility credit of up to $2.25, to reward rain garden installers. To date, 130 residents have signed on.

For Glenview residents to qualify for their reimbursement, they must submit plans for a garden, agree to maintain the garden for at least five years, and permit the village to monitor its progress.