Stormwater Runoff and Pollution/Water Quality

Storm Water Runoff

Storm Drain

Storm water runoff is precipitation from either rainstorms or melting snow that does not soak into the ground or other porous surfaces.  Storm water from neighborhoods is carried efficiently via storm drains to rivers, lakes, streams and beaches.  The presence of chemicals in the storm water can pollute these bodies of water and the environment, impacting plants and wildlife and polluting drinking water.

 Bare Soil

You may be surprised to learn that one of the biggest pollutants of surface waters is soil.  When soil erodes into streams and lakes, it muddies the waters reducing the amount of sunlight that can penetrate the water, adversely impacting plant and wildlife in the water.  Moreover, the eroded soil particles carry nutrients and chemicals directly into the water.  This large amount of suspended nutrients in the water cause large algae blooms which can steal oxygen from the water and kill fish.

Healthy Lawn

There are several steps you can take right in your own front yard to help keep surface and ground waters clean.  The first thing you can do is start with a healthy lawn and landscape.  Bare soil in your yard can promote soil erosion.  Planting grass, trees and shrubs will help to keep the soil in place.  Thick, green, healthy grass will protect the soil and prevent erosion.

Grass has a very dense-fibrous root system that is excellent at holding soil in place.  Thick grass also filters the water before it reaches surface and ground water sources.  The densely arranged leaves of thick healthy turf are perfect for slowing moving water and allowing it to soak into the soil.  The numerous leaves and the thatch layer do an excellent job at filtering out soil and other contaminants from the water.  For decades, grass has been planted as buffer strips on and around farm fields to filter the water before it enters streams and waterways.

Do not blow your leaves or grass clippings into the street.  Those leaves and clippings contain nutrients. The next rain will carry those nutrients into the surface waters potentially causing large algae blooms.  Leave the clippings on the ground after mowing instead of bagging them.  Up to 25% of the nutrients from the grass will be recycled back into your soil, requiring fewer fertilizer treatments to your lawn.

Rain Gardens or Bio-Swales

Another idea is to use rain gardens or bio-swales to filter and slow water runoff.  Rain gardens are shallow, low areas in your yard that are planted with plants and grasses with deep roots that are hardy and native to your area.  The plants will help to slow down the flow of water and hold it in place until it can soak into the ground while filtering the water.

Roof Runoff & Porous Surfaces

Water from your roof should be directed to lawn areas or rain gardens.  Aiming downspouts on your house away from paved impermeable surfaces and onto your grasses or shrubs will help to soak up rain water and decrease the chance of runoff into storm water drains.  Also, the use of porous surfaces materials such as mulch, bricks, flagstones, gravel, or porous cement on patios and walkways can help to soak up excess water and prevent it from running into the storm sewer system.

Rain Barrels or Cisterns

You can also collect rain water from your roof in rain barrels or cisterns.  The water can be used at a later date to water the plants inside or outside your home.  They are fairly inexpensive to make using heavy duty garbage containers.  (A 1” rain on a 20x25 square foot roof can move over 300 gallons of water which would fill most barrels 4-5 times. For more information on Rain Barrels, Click Here.

Rain Barrels

Use a rain barrel to collect runoff from your roof, and use it water plants later.

Porous Surface

Porous surface driveways allow water to soak in to the soil beneath.

Water Runoff Pollutants

Many common pollutants may exist around your home that you are not aware of.  Fluids from your automobile, such as leaks or spilled oil or antifreeze need to be cleaned up before they are washed away in the next rainstorm.  Also, sweep up extra salt de-icer that is used in the winter months and is still on the ground, or use an alternative product such as sand that will not harm the water quality.

Follow the labels for the correct rates of applying pesticides and fertilizers to your yard.  Avoid access amounts that could potentially run off and do not apply any right before a rainstorm.  Most importantly, do not apply fertilizers or pesticides to streets, sidewalks, or driveways.  These products, if left in the street, will be flushed into surface waters during the next rain.  If any products get on the street or driveway, immediately sweep or blow it back into the yard.  If it is a large amount, sweep it up and spread it out evenly over the yard.

Another common water pollutant is from animal or pet manure left on the ground that can run into storm water and encourage algae growth and potential disease contamination.  Put the waste into a bag and through in the garbage or mix with litter or other safe material.  While on walks in the neighborhood, do not throw your bags of pet droppings into the storm sewer. Put them into pet waste containers at parks or in garbage cans.

Rain Garden

This is the new rain garden in Greensburg, Kansas.

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