Soak up the rain — Part 2

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a new outreach program to encourage citizen and municipalities to adopt green infrastructure practices to reduce storm water runoff.

As communities continue to grow and develop, pervious surfaces (open space, trees, etc.) are lost to impervious surfaces (roofs, roads, etc). This increased imperviousness results in increased runoff into local lakes, rivers and streams. This runoff can carry a variety of pollutants from soil to oil that negatively impact our drinking water resources.

The Soak Up the Water campaign from the EPA was developed “to raise awareness about the problem associated with polluted storm water runoff and to encourage citizens and municipalities to take action to help reduce runoff and its costly impacts”. According the EPA polluted runoff is one of the greatest threats to clean water in the U.S.

There are a number of actions the EPA is recommending citizens and municipalities adopt to reduce storm water runoff:

Disconnect/Redirect Downspouts: In many situations, house and building downspouts are directed onto paved surfaces. This sends the water straight to the street and storm drains which go directly to the nearest open body of water. Downspouts are sometimes connected to a pipe that send the storm water into the ground where it connects directly to the sanitary sewer or storm drain system. If it’s connected to the sanitary sewer, this results in overloading of the system and possible discharge of raw or partially treated sewage during a storm event.

By diverting building downspouts from paved surfaces or in ground pipes, the flow is sent to areas that can absorb or hold the water for infiltration or later use.

Rain Barrels: Rain barrels are used to collect water from roofs and hold it for later use on lawns, flower gardens or shrubs. These barrels will reduce the amount of water leaving your property. It is a good way to conserve water by reusing rain water and it’s free.

Rain Gardens: Rain gardens are depressed areas in the landscape that collect water from impervious surfaces, including roofs, driveways and sidewalks. This allows the collected runoff to soak slowly into the ground. These gardens use grasses and flowering perennials to absorb and hold the water until infiltration. Rain gardens are a beautiful, cost-effective way to reduce runoff. They can be incorporated into a low area of your yard in the front or back. The plantings in the rain garden help to filter pollutants from runoff. They may also provide shelter and food for a number of butterflies, bees and other wildlife. Rain gardens are a good option for both individual and community property.

Permeable Pavement: There are several options for permeable pavement. Using porous paver stones for walkway, patios and entranceways can reduce runoff through infiltration into the ground. These stones also increase the character and look of the property. Porous pavement has been successfully used in parking lots in many commercial and municipal buildings. This pavement looks just like regular pavement or asphalt but has properties that allow for water to infiltrate the surface.

Green Infrastructure: Green roofs and tree planting, in addition to rain gardens and permeable pavement, are better suited as community options due to the scale and cost. These practices rely on soil, plants and the natural processes of infiltration, evaporation and transpiration to mimic the water cycle to manage runoff.

Green roofs use a layer of specific plant materials to absorb rain water like a sponge. During a rain event, the plants capture the water then slowly release it through evaporation and plant use. While significantly reducing the amount of rain runoff, green roofs reduce building energy use by lowering the temperature from sun penetration and noise levels. In space constrained urban areas that can limit other storm water management options, green roofs are being increasingly used.

Green Macomb is one example of using “the right plant in the right place for the right purpose” to improve water quality and reduce flooding. Strategic tree plantings can increase property value, improve air quality, public health and quality of life. Funded by a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant, this green infrastructure program includes interconnected networks of open spaces, parks, wetlands and natural areas along with features intentionally designed to mimic these natural systems, such as rain gardens, bioswales, urban parks and urban trees. Green Macomb is a diverse partnership of public and private entities to enhance the region’s land and water resources. 

Additional articles in this series: 

Soak up the rain – Part 1

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