Awards and Funding

Wege Small Cities Sustainability Best Practices Award 

The world’s largest source of surface freshwater is in peril and needs leadership to protect it.  While large cities often have more resources to act, small cities – with populations of under 100,000 – often do not. The Wege Small Cities Sustainability Best Practices Award program awards $5,000 to one small Cities Initiative member city in the U.S. or Canada working to protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence and improve the quality of the water resource for future generations. This award was originated by the host of the Cities Initiative 2007 annual meeting, the City of Grand Rapids, with support from the Wege Foundation. The Cities Initiative, in partnership with the Wege Foundation, is proud to continue the tradition of this annual award to encourage environmental stewardship and recognize effort and results.

Nomination Process

Cities Initiative member cities with populations under 100,000 are encouraged to submit a sustainable and meaningful project for consideration for an award that balances economic, social, and environmental aspects within the community that could be used as a best practice in other cities.


Small cities are encouraged to submit a 500-word description of a new or existing project that clearly delineates triple bottom line aspects (economic vitality, social equity and environmental stewardship) and the resulting community impact on Great Lakes-St. Lawrence water resources. Include a cover sheet describing why the project should be considered for the award and what the community will do with the associated $5,000 grant award.

Past Winners

2020 - City of Marquette, MI

The City of Marquette is currently transforming a former industrial site into a naturalized coastal area that will improve the resiliency of the Lake Superior shoreline, protect critical infrastructure, and restore public access to nearly a mile of waterfront while creating a public green space of 20 acres. It will also restore/create an aquatic and terrestrial habitat that will support numerous fish and wildlife species., was founded, formed, and defined by its relationship to the lake. Fueled by the mining industry starting in the 1800s, Marquette functioned as a maritime community that provided shipping access, import, and export, to the region. The most visible evidence of this industry is the presence of two ore docks bookending the City in the North and South. The North Ore Dock is still active while the South Ore Dock functions as a monument to Marquette’s history in the downtown lower harbor. Connecting these two structures and enabling access to the shoreline, Lakeshore Boulevard serves as an important asset to the City and community. With more public lakefront access than any other municipality in the region, Marquette continues to search for ways to responsibly steward the shoreline and enhance this access.

2019- Town of Tecumseh

Lakewood Park and Stormwater System Improvements

The project aims to create natural and sustainable stormwater management solutions to protect Lake St. Clair, provide improved level of service for local residents, and create a naturalized park area to serve the greater community. This project includes the construction of a new stormwater pumping station, improvements to the existing shoreline, revitalization of approximately 70 acres of park land and construction of a 640 m natural stormwater channel. The end result provides a unique place for community functions and recreation activities for all ages. The WEGE award will be used to fund dedicated benches along the multi-use trails within the park.

2018 - The Township of Tay

Severn Sound Invasive Species Strategy


A group of communities is working together to combat invasive species around Severn Sound and its watershed.  The Severn Sound Invasive Species Strategy, developed collaboratively between the Townships of Tay, Tiny, and Severn, the Town of Midland and the Severn Sound Environmental Association, intends to address invasive species at the regional level by incorporating mapping, monitoring, and controlling problematic invasive species while fostering community involvement and education.  With the Award, the team will be able to acquire much needed equipment to map, monitor, and control invasive species, as well as produce educational posters and factsheets, and train staff.

2017 – Niagara Falls, NY

Hyde Park Lake Restoration

Hyde Park Lake in Nigara Falls, New York is threatened by phosphorus pollutants from urban/storm runoff compounded by eroding banks contributing to sediment loading.  Located within 580 acres in the center of the city, the park is predominantly green space providing an abundance of recreational opportunities. In addition to the Lake, it contains picnic areas, swimming/wading pools, a golf course, playground, tennis and bocce courts, ball diamonds, a rose garden and an indoor ice skating facility. From spring through fall, residents and visitors to the area visit the park to utilize the recreational facilities or relax and enjoy the pastoral scenery and wildlife that is abundant within the park.  In partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, the city has embarked on a multi-year habitat restoration program for the lake, aimed at reducing turbidity and eutrophication caused by a proliferation of invasive species, ultimately improving water quality and the health of the aquatic ecosystem.  The Wege Award will be used for ongoing habitat restoration work at Hyde Park Lake.

2016 – Town of the Blue Mountains, ON

Solar Lighting Initiative

The Town of the Blue Mountains, Ontario installed 6 pole mounted solar lights, outfitted with a photovoltaic solar collector that charges an internal battery during the day, to better illuminate a dark Town parking lot that was a public safety concern.  The solar lighting heads use an efficient LED array and motion sensors and use less energy than standard light bulbs.  The solar lighting allowed for an above ground mounting system that avoided digging up a portion of the already finished parking lot, as well as disturbing the Town’s geothermal in-ground loops located under the parking lot.  Use of this kind of renewable energy reduces the community’s reliance on other less sustainable energy sources.  And, while these lightheads have a higher initial cost than traditional lights, things like eliminated energy billing costs, lower maintenance costs associated with LED technology, and the avoidance of underground powerline installation will result in savings over time.  The installation was so successful others are being completed.  It is planned that the Award money will go towards helping with additional solar powered lighting installations throughout the Town.

2015 – Racine, WI

Protecting our Waterways through Stormwater Best Practices

Racine, Wisconsin has been an active participant in the development of restoration plans for the three watersheds in which it resides. Adoption of a watershed restoration plan carries with it a commitment to strive towards meeting short and long term goals, including reductions in stormwater related pollution. Stormwater management often requires large-scale capital investments.  However, less costly best management practices (BMPs), such as public education, placarding of stormwater catch basins and restoration of natural coastal features/vegetation, has also proven effective in reducing contaminants and the amount of untreated stormwater reaching riparian and coastal areas at a fraction of the cost.  Therefore, implementation of stormwater BMPs is critical to meeting the goals and objectives of our three watershed restoration plans as well as ensuring the health and safety of those recreating in our riparian and nearshore coastal waters.  The city used its Wege Award to implement several stormwater BMPs, including: 1) placing “No Dumping” decals on storm drains, 2) home delivered educational hang tags; 3) purchasing native plants/seed mix to restore an urban coastal wetland; and 4) creating beach-based educational signage. Educating the public on stormwater and the role they play in preserving the Great Lakes was reinforced by placing decals in very visible locations in their neighborhoods.  Health Department staff, college students and citizen volunteers worked together to accomplish this task. By engaging a wide range of stakeholders, we created an environment conducive to social learning. Social learning has been shown to build consensus amongst diverse stakeholders around issues of importance.

2014 – Highland Park, IL

Water Conservation and Efficiency Initiative

In recognition of the importance of responsibly managing our water resources and create efficiencies in its water distribution as well as maintain its environmental stewardship, the City of Highland Park, Illinois enacted the Water Conservation & Efficiency Initiative in Spring 2013. The Initiative was the culmination of much research and deliberation and entailed implementation of several water waste reduction measure, including:  1). Establishment of a 3-tier “Conservation Rate” Water Pricing Plan; 2). Implementation of Odd/Even Sprinkling Schedule; 3). Requirement of Smart Sensors on (new) Lawn Sprinkler Systems; and 4). Public Education.  With the Wege Award, the City was able to complete the public education element of their initiative, which included outreach efforts like water bottle distribution and the design of a display that demonstrates daily average water use for household consumers.

2013 – Collingwood, ON

Community Pathways

In a collaboration between the Town Council, different municipal departments, the Collingwood Downtown Business Improvement Area and a local non-profit, The Environment Network, the Community Pathways project aims to use the existing laneways and pathways that connect the community to the lakefront downtown business district and enhance them by removing unnecessary concrete and replacing it with soil and vegetation.  Funding from the Wege Award will support efforts to plant native species, thus improving stormwater runoff and restoring the natural hydrological cycle. This portion of the project will be undertaken by The Environment Network. The project will provide safe, accessible and enjoyable places for citizens and visitors to walk and to connect with local businesses. The project is currently in its early stages.

2012 – Gary, IN

Community Alliance for Clean Water Campaign

The City of Gary, Indiana implemented their Community Alliance for Clean Water campaign that aims to revitalize the city through engagement in watershed issues and green job training while improving the overall health of the community.  The partnership of the Stormwater Management District and the Department of Green Urbanism engages community clean-ups near water and storm sewer areas.  The program also aims to share best management strategies and job train citizens on green initiatives.  Through the $5,000 grant from the Wege Foundation, the city provided more clean-up kits to their community group to initiate more area clean-up activities.

2011 – Sheboygan, WI

Energy Self-Sufficient Wastewater Treatment Plant

Since 2002, the City of Sheboygan, Wisconsin has been successful in moving the function of their Wastewater Treatment Plant completely off the electrical grid.  The plant, which services two cities, a village and four surrounding townships, treats water for over 68,000 people.  The city completed numerous energy saving measures over the years by replacing old equipment with more energy-efficient models, and capturing methane gas from anaerobic digestion process to run the plant.  Currently the plan runs completely through these processes.  Sheboygan has also been able to use technology to capture heat recovery to heat the plant’s buildings.  The City will used the funds to continue their public education, marketing and outreach efforts, including partnering with regional and national organizations to demonstrate how to complete a similar project in other communities.

2010 – Bayfield, WI

Clean It Green It Campaign

From 2008-2010, the City of Bayfield, Wisconsin embarked on an initiative to make their city an eco-municipality.  The city introduced its “Clean It, Green It” Campaign.  This campaign covers a variety of areas from providing green products to residents, offering grants to “green” resident homes, to partnering on a door-to-door campaign to educate the public on choices to consume and recycle the earth’s goods.  In 2008 alone, Bayfield was able to award 31 grants to residents for various “green” purchases for their home.  In 2010, the campaign’s focus is on replacing municipal lights with high efficiency LED lights.  In the future, Bayfield hopes to direct their city toward more renewable energy sources.  With the Wege Award, the City of Bayfield implemented a water conservation program in order to continue with the accomplishments of previous “Clean It, Green It” campaign initiatives.

2009 – Sheffield Lake, OH

Stormwater Reduction / Rain Barrel Program

Sheffield Lake, Ohio aimed to reuse rainwater and stop stormwater runoff through a stormwater reduction/rain barrel program.  The City took the first step to mitigate the problem of stormwater runoff by issuing a mandate prohibiting roof runoff from entering the city’s storm system from newly constructed and remodeled homes.  The planned stormwater reduction/rain barrel program got off the ground with the financial support provided by the Wege Award.  The City provided residents with rain barrels and utilized the local Boy Scout Troop to assist residents with installation.  Additionally, free public classes were offered on how to create a rain garden as well as the advantages of conserving water and how to use rain water for simple gardening.

2008 – Ajax, ON

Waterfront Quality Improvements

In 2005 the Town of Ajax, Ontario reached an environmental tipping point with excessive bacteria and decaying algae on its beaches and waterfront.  Ajax prides itself on its 4.3 miles of publicly owned undeveloped greenspace.  The source of the contamination was narrowed down to a few contributors, however Ajax still struggled in pinpointing the source.  The Town of Ajax partnered with neighboring communities and the Province of Ontario on water quality studies.  In addition, Ajax participated in a Lake Ontario Study examining water quality with the U.S. EPA and Ontario Ministry of the Environment.  The Town of Ajax used the Wege funds to implement continuing scientific tracing of the sources of contaminants in the Town’s storm sewer system and identifying remedial measures, such as physical changes to prevent wildlife from inhabiting the system.

2007 – Beaconsfield, QC

Sewer System Improvement

With extreme rain events occurring in the early 2000’s, the City of Beaconsfield, Quebec was struck with problems of overflowing and flooding.  Residents had been illegally connecting sump pumps directly to the sanitary system rather than repairing damaged connections on their property.  The influx of sump pumps on the system caused overflow of the sewer system and the release of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence.  In order to save the river from unnecessary sewage disposals, Beaconsfield decided to inspect the sump pumps of residents.  A “pump patrol” was born to inspect residences to make sure that their sump pumps were not illegally connected to the sanitary sewer.  Over two years, students were trained to inspect homes and ask residents of illegally connected systems to comply with the bylaws to prevent overflow.  The goal of this effort is to end sewer system overflows and raw sewage deposits in the St. Lawrence, in addition to reduced city flooding.  The Wege award was used for continued implementation of this program.  (Even the mayor repaired the sump pump in his house.)