Four Environmentally Conscious Ways to Manage Stormwater Runoff
Stormwater can lead to stream bank erosion, loss of flood control and health implications.
- By Rachel Perez
- Jul 26, 2022
Unfortunately, the earth’s natural lands are shrinking. Many forests and streams have become parking lots and residential neighborhoods over time. As a result, pollution increases and eventually makes its way into the environment, which is already made weaker by urbanization and polluting industries.
That pollution makes its way into the environment through stormwater runoff. Consisting of trash, toxins, animal waste and other dangerous compounds, stormwater runoff turns pollution into a literal river of waste.
What is Stormwater Runoff, and Why is it Bad?
Whenever it rains, the water goes somewhere. In a perfect situation, the ground absorbs the rainfall, filters it and directs it back to the water supply.
However, the situation is far from perfect in our current world of cities, urbanization and impervious surfaces.
When rain doesn’t absorb, it flows to the lowest point. As it does, it collects whatever is on the ground as it passes over, such as dirt, chemicals, trash and more. That rainwater is now a toxic soup, and that soup is stormwater runoff.
To put it simply, there is nothing good about stormwater runoff. Water flows down the path of least resistance. In areas without adequate drainage, stormwater will erode the ground as it flows. This has enormous implications within nature, including stream bank erosion and loss of flood control.
Stormwater runoff also introduces dangerous substances into local waterways. Many of these substances are forever chemicals. These chemicals, such as perfluorinated compounds, stay in the environment instead of breaking down. Indeed, they have a range of adverse health implications, including death.
The runoff often bypasses treatment facilities. Therefore, toxins such as these forever chemicals go straight into nature. There, it affects the animals we hunt, the vegetables we farm and the land on which we live.
Stormwater runoff is not just a local problem. The Clean Water Act creates federal regulations that municipalities and other entities must follow. Even so, however, runoff continues to harm the environment.
Fortunately, for now, stormwater runoff is manageable at almost every point of the cycle. In fact, there are several ways to collect, divert and protect the environment from this harmful pollutant.
Here are four environmentally conscious ways to manage stormwater runoff.
1. Rain Gardens
Paper straws still come wrapped in plastic, and industries continue to pollute. Once-covered landfills suddenly start leaking toxins into nearby water supplies. Most of the environment’s problems fall beyond the everyday person’s ability to solve them. Thus, large-scale problems require large-scale solutions.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean there is nothing the common person should do. In fact, there is plenty that all of us should do to help where we can. One such way is a rain garden. This is a fun and simple project that tackles stormwater runoff while providing an eye-catching display of nature.
Made up of hardy, native plants, rain gardens help collect and filter stormwater runoff. Robust root systems filter the water while maintaining the soil integrity. As well, they make great micro-environments for insects, birds, and other animals.
Rain gardens work best when planted on a slope or near a runoff point, such as a downspout. They also help relieve flooding and standing water in low-lying areas. Best of all, they are as easy to create as planting a garden.
Cisterns turn rainfall into a usable commodity. Large tanks have capacities of tens of thousands of gallons. Since a cistern collects water that would have otherwise become runoff, it reduces total runoff volumes for the area.
With this collected rainwater comes many uses, such as:
- Water for irrigation, including yards and gardens.
- Toilet flushing, house washing and other non-potable uses.
- With treatment, an ample supply of potable water.
Cisterns help in several ways. They reduce utility bills, provide water where none is naturally available and protect the environment. However, they require some pre-planning for the best efficiency and safety.
For instance, burying the cistern is usually a good idea to prevent temperature swings that could damage the structure. It also helps keep away any insects and animals. If used for drinking water, the roof must be made ready. Aluminum, cleaners and filters are all used to treat rainwater for drinking. Once in the cistern, chlorinators and other filters create potable water.
When used correctly, cisterns provide a range of new uses for water that would have harmed the environment.
3. Green Roofs
For a more novel approach, turn to green roofs. As the name implies, a green roof uses plants, grasses and other vegetation instead of standard roofing tiles.
Green roofs provide a long list of other benefits. These include insulation, roof protection and even added usable space. Green roofs are great additions to urban areas. They help scrub CO2 from the air and eliminate heat reflection, thereby reducing heat islands.
There are also the many home benefits that come with a green roof. Specifically:
- They reduce outside noise from entering the house.
- They produce food for humans or animals.
- They help protect the roof by mitigating the elements.
Of course, green roofs truly shine in combating stormwater runoff. Green roofs need a lot of water to grow and thrive. As such, a green roof absorbs rain that falls on it, reducing what makes it to the downspout. Some green roofs stop over 200,000 gallons of runoff a year from entering waterways.
Like rain gardens, green roofs provide food and shelter for native bees and birds. They also add beautiful value to the property. As well, a green roof creates a great talking point to get your neighbors involved with stormwater management.
4. Educating the Masses
Not every action against stormwater runoff involves breaking ground or planting flowers, nor is stormwater going away anytime soon. One of the best ways to hasten the elimination of stormwater runoff is through prudent education.
Stormwater runoff isn’t a popular term tossed around like a trendy buzzword. Therefore, the issue isn’t as well known as deforestation or red tides. However, stormwater runoff affects both of those environmental concerns.
Share your wisdom and findings with your friends, family and neighbors. A community of educated individuals creates a solid force to make a change. From a neighborhood rain garden to town council meetings, everything beneficial begins with knowledge.
Some ideas to help make your voice heard include:
- Sharing your expertise, be it in cistern maintenance, gardening or even water chemistry.
- Organize community rain events. Draw attention to stormwater runoff with environmentally-friendly activities.
- Create a public petition to call upon local leaders to address local stormwater runoff issues.
Spread your message, and grow the movement. The most decisive actions start with the smallest steps, and with a community behind you, your voice will make a difference.
Stormwater runoff is an issue of crucial importance. It is killing our environment, poisoning our waterways and eliminating natural resources. As humans continue to grow in numbers and industrialize the land, our stormwater problems will only worsen.
Though these actions seem small against the immensity of the stormwater problem, every bit of help counts. Those who take the initiative for a solution inspire others to do so as well. With determination, enough people will eventually take the measures needed to make impactful change.
And it all starts with a few simple steps.
Rachel is an Outreach Associate with North Star Inbound. An honors graduate of New York University, she contributes home improvement, landscaping and renovation pieces. When not writing, she enjoys gardening with her mom and spending time in the Florida sunshine.