When rain falls, it either soaks into the ground to become groundwater, or it flows on top of the ground and becomes storm water runoff.
When water soaks into the ground, the soil acts as a “filter,” catching and holding onto most anything that the rain water brought with it. Native plant-life also capture the nutrients that the water brings along, much like a sponge. This is the ideal outcome for storm water.
However, when storm water has no way to enter the ground, it will keep flowing above ground until it meets the nearest river, stream, or lake. Since this water had no opportunity to be filtered by the soil or native plants, it deposits whatever it has picked up along the way into the next body of water.
Storm water runoff picks up whatever it comes into contact with as it travels to its lowest elevation. Dirt, nutrients, manure, fertilizer, pet waste, trash, pesticides... storm water does not discriminate. The contaminants that it picks up as it flows cause significant damage when it enters our waters.
Our lakes are becoming inundated with storm water runoff filled with phosphorus and nitrates that cause major changes to the water quality and throw off the lake’s natural balance.
There are easy steps that anyone with a yard or garden can do to help. A major way both municipalities and homeowners can begin to address storm water problems is through the use of rain gardens. It seems too simple, but strategically placed rain gardens really are effective. Rain gardens can trap and use most or all of the water your yard captures from an average storm. The yellow highlighted areas in the graphic show possible locations for effective rain gardens.
Efforts to limit runoff at the grass roots level can go a long way in protecting the beauty and health of our rivers and lakes.
A typical house has a roof area of 1,200 square feet and four downspouts that will each drain about 300 square feet of roof. That means a rainfall of 0.3 inches will fill a 55-gallon rain barrel placed under each downspout.
Rain barrels or cisterns, are above ground water storage vessels. They capture rain runoff from a building’s roof using the gutter and downspout system.
The addition of a rain barrel to a storm water landscaping plan provides a great way to conserve water. It becomes a free water source for use around the yard. Rainwater collected in a rain barrel can be used for watering gardens, trees, the lawn, or washing a car.