Indiana University at South Bend Center for a Sustainble Future

Long before French settlers arrived on the river’s south bend to trap wildlife along the shores, the Potawatomi called the river Sagwa.   Sagwa means “mystery river” and refers to the legend of visitor who would appear to the native people.  Sagwa sounds feminine, like the river herself, who is curvy and whose mostly calm surface belies a strong undercurrent. 

I learned about the legend of Sagwa from my friends, Gabrielle Robinson and Mike Keen.  While researching the history of the river, Gabrielle learned about an innovative hydroelectric project started in the early 80’s which had been abandoned.  Mike mentioned an educational component to the design that would make the project a double-win for the City.  “You should work to re-ignite projects like that,” Mike told me.

While working on a degree in Liberal Studies at IUSB, a class taught by Jerry Hinnefeld in 2007 had students researching topics on energy.   Looking for answers about the 1980’s hydro project, I made multiple calls to the county city building; most folks had never heard of the project until finally I talked to Gary Gilot, who suggested I call John Fisher, senior engineer at Lawson-Fisher.

John not only knew about the project, he was its chief architect and was thrilled to have someone show interest in his nearly-forgotten project.  When he showed me the beautiful colored pencil drawings that had been tucked away for over 20 years, he was like a kid showing his mom his best artwork for her refrigerator.  Not only had the City planned to install a small hydro generator, but an even larger 1.8 megawatt facility.  The coolest part about the bigger project was a below-water level public concourse with windows on either side that would allow visitors to see the turbines turning on one side and fish going up the ladder on the other.

Armed with this information from John, I not only presented my research to my classmates, but I took my slide show on the road and showed it to anyone who would watch and listen.  A blog site, letters to the South Bend Tribune, meetings with Congressman Donnelly’s office and radio essays later, I was appointed to South Bend’s Green Ribbon Commission by Mayor Steve Luecke. Our commission was the impetus for South Bend’s Municipal Energy Office, who, under the leadership of Jonathan Burke brought the little generator, nicknamed Little Gennie, to her intended home on the East Race.

The river has a long history of sustaining the people who interacted with her.  I am proud of the part I had in re-igniting our embrace of her potential.


Twenty artists and artist groups, including school groups from Washington High School, Edison Intermediate Center, Stanley Clark School, Countryside Montessori Preschool, Discovery Middle School and St Joe High School decorated 55-gallon barrels that have been converted into Rain Barrels.  The Rain Barrels will be on display at local businesses who have underwritten this project.

Beginning the week of April 23, 15 of the Rain Barrels will go on display at the South Bend Museum of Art in an indoor garden to be donated and installed by Foegley Landscape.

Five of the Rain Barrels, underwritten by area Credit Unions, will also be on display at the Credit Unions.  These will be used as bistro tables the night of the auction and then donated to local community or Unity gardens or any school or not-for-profit who has a community garden.  If you belong to a garden such as this and would like one of these Rain Barrels, contact IU South Bend Center for a Sustainable Future.  These Rain Barrels will be randomly distributed on a first-come first-served basis to qualifying gardens.

The other fifteen Rain Barrels will be sold at auction on Friday, May 4, beginning at 7:00 p.m. at the SB Museum of Art, Century Center.  (Evening wear and garden gloves recommended, but not required!)

Thanks to the following underwriters:

IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future

South Bend Museum of Art

Foegley Landscaping

PNC Bank

Fiddler’s Hearth

Lawson-Fisher Associates

St Joseph County Soil and Water Conservation District

Roseland Garden Center

Martin’s Supermarkets

Kil Architecture/Planning

South Bend Waste Water Treatment Facility

Purple Porch Co-op

Hill’s True Value

Beehive Salon

Just Goods

Barnaby’s South Bend

Coca Cola Bottling Company of Indiana


Carl Kaser Auction

Louie’s Tux Shop

Lochmandy Collision Center

IU Federal Credit Union

AAA Federal Credit Union

Teachers Credit Union

Community Wide Credit Union

Notre Dame Federal Credit UnionImage

Moving South Bend Towards a Sustainable Future

In response to the City’s Green Ribbon Commission as well as South Bend’s commitment to reduce energy consumption and to look for alternative sources of energy, the City of South Bend hired Jonathan Burke to the newly created position of Municipal Energy Director.  A native of Michigan, Mr. Burke worked for 28 years building sustainable buildings and managing property in Maryland. There he advanced many initiatives to promote sustainable building management in the areas of energy use and equipment optimization.  Mr. Burke, whose position is funded by a portion of a federal sustainability grant awarded to the City, began work in September of 2010.  In an effort to determine how the City can save money by way of reducing its energy use, he has been tirelessly “kicking the tires and looking under the hood” of municipal buildings.  He is also keenly interested in alternative energy sources, including the hydroelectric capacity of the dam at Century Center.  A strong supporter of all things sustainable, Mr. Burke is also working with IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future, the Unity Gardens, the South Bend Community Garden movements and other organizations to help make South Bend the greenest city in Indiana.

A preschooler gets a little help to add his handprint to the SNAP Rain Barrel.

In an effort to raise awareness of water as a natural resource and to connect the schools, business, arts and sustainability communities, 2010-2011 Fellow with IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future, Kathleen Petitjean, enlisted area artists and artist groups to paint twelve, 55-gallon plastic containers, donated by Coca Cola and converted for use as rain barrels.  All the barrels were underwritten by local businesses and organizations. The teachers and therapists from the South Bend Community School Corporation’s Special Needs and Abilities Preschool (SNAP) pooled resources to underwrite a “SNAP” barrel.  Over 70 special needs preschool students and their classroom buddies at Hamilton, Madison and Darden Primary Centers participated in painting the SNAP barrel!

All the barrels were coated with a clear automotive finish donated by Lochmandy Collision Center, Mishawaka and are currently on display at underwriting businesses.  The SNAP barrel will take turns being displayed at Darden, Madison and Hamilton Primary Centers.  Beginning April 25th, all the barrels will be displayed for two weeks in an indoor garden setting donated by Foegley Landscape at the South Bend Museum of Art.  On May 6th, starting at 7:00 p.m. the twelve barrels will be sold at a public auction with the proceeds to be split between IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future and the artists or artist groups. The SNAP program will be the recipient of the SNAP barrel proceeds.  Upon learning that the barrel he was painting would be sold, little Joe asked his teacher, Tracy Greulich, if she would use the money to buy grapes for he and his friends to share at snack-time!

Mark your calendars and plan to attend the Rain Barrel auction on May 6th at 7:00 p.m.; the auction event is free and open to the public.  Groups will be on hand to share information about Rain Barrels and water conservation.  At least two unpainted barrels will also be given away in a free drawing.

Evening wear and garden gloves recommended but not required!

To see all the Original Art Rain Barrels, please go to:

For more information about IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future go to:

To become an underwriter for this event, please contact:

For more information about rain barrels and water conservation, please go to:

This project is being underwritten by:

IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future

St Joseph County Soil and Water Conservation District

South Bend Museum of Art

Barnaby’s South Bend

Beehive Salon

Coca Cola Bottling Company of Indiana

Foegley Landscape

Goodrich Auction Company

Martin’s Supermarket

Lawson-Fisher Associates

Lochmandy Collision Center

Purple Porch Co-op

Red Hen Turf Farm

Teachers and Therapists of the South Bend Community School Corporation’s Special Needs and Abilities Preschool

Troyer Group

Gary Mester, Master Photographer

Acousticom Corporation

Cathy Romano

Tonight in South Bend, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission held the third of three state-wide public hearings on net metering.  Currently, Indiana lags far behind the rest of the country in how investor-owned utility companies such as Northern Indiana Public Service Company and Indiana Michigan Power handle renewable energy produced by customers.  For example, in some states customers receive a check from their utility companies for any excess energy they may send to the grid from their home or business’ solar or wind generator.  However, in good old coal-burning Indiana, net metering for renewable energy is limited to a capacity of 10 kilowatts with energy-generating customers receiving a credit at a fraction of what utilities charge customers drawing from the grid.  As we learned from the testimonies tonight, current regulations also allow utilities to charge nebulous “connection” fees to customers with wind or solar generators; as a result, these Hoosiers who are trying to do the right thing by the environment are actually PAYING to send their excess renewable energy to the power companies’ grids, where they in turn sell it at huge mark-up.  Local and international businesses are having a hard time selling their renewable energy products in Indiana due to the poor rate and indeed sometimes negative rate of return. 

(This should come as no surprise from a state that relies on coal for 90% of its power.  The coal industry has such a stranglehold on Indiana it somehow got the state to allow the construction of a monstrous, coal-fired power plant at the front door of Clifty Falls State Park.   The majestic view of the Ohio River beheld by Eleanor Roosevelt while standing on the balcony at the park’s inn now looks over the machinations of the coal-burning industry.  The three ungodly high smoke-stacks loom over the entire park and can be seen for miles in any direction. 

Coal obviously rules Indiana).

Urging the commission to support changes to the state’s net metering regulations, local and state representatives, homeowners, green technology business owners, laborers and representatives from the League of Women Voters, the Green Party, the Sierra Club and IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future pointed out how progressive net metering is good for the environment and the economy. 

Net metering would make South Bend’s installation of the hydro-electric generator on the dam at Century Center an economically feasible venture with an estimated return on investment in half the time without net metering.

Every speaker at tonight’s hearing supported revising net metering regulations in order to encourage businesses, local governments and home owners to invest in renewable energy.   This cross-section of our community thinks it’s an idea whose time has come.  Let’s hope the IURC agrees.