Friday, October 26, 2012

Do you know where your storm water is going?

     As we face the very real possibility of a weekend dominated by remnants of a hurricane merging with a winter storm, I would like to ask you the following.  Do you know where your storm water is going?  If you know that it vaguely goes downhill but know very little else about it, you are not alone.  Very few people know or really even care where it goes as long as it goes away from them.  Most people want enough rain to keep their grass and trees green and healthy in due season but not so much as to pond and flood.  Unfortunately, rain is not always that controlled and refined.  It frequently comes in great amounts or stops coming at all for long periods of time.
     Rain is sometimes better classified as 'feast or famine'.  That is where storm water management becomes important.
     Rain hits all kinds of surfaces when in comes down.  In a natural environment, it hits mostly plant canopies and soil.  The exception to this is in places where rock covers the surface.  Even in the rocky natural setting, rain hits the ground and has the opportunity to infiltrate down through the soil and eventually into the water table.  During a light rain, most or all of the water hitting the ground will soak in.  During a heavy rain, some will soak in and the rest will run off downhill until it reaches a concentrated area such as an intermittent stream or a creek.  Even the water that runs off is slowed and as it flows downhill allowed additional opportunities to infiltrate due to the plants and humus layer that covers the surface of the soil.
     People don't tend to live on pristine sites.  They construct houses, pave driveways and walks and alter the plants covering the soil.  Roofs and paving create areas where water in incapable of even reaching the soil.  These areas are impervious meaning that no water can infiltrate into the soil.   People cut down trees that otherwise would have helped to direct the water down their trunks and into the soil and plant areas of grass which does allow for infiltration but at a different rate.  In addition water traveling over the soil flows at a different rate, usually much faster, after the site has been altered.
     The end result of all this activity is an increase in water leaving sites and filling creeks, stream bed and bank degradation and downstream flooding.  To many people this is the inevitable by-product of human habitation and this is worsened by a thriving economy that fosters building.   
     This excess water doesn't have to leave your site.  Consider adding measures to collect it and allow it to stay on your site where it was intended to remain.  A couple of easy and obvious do-it-yourself choices are great possibilities.  The easiest and most obvious measure is to add a rainwater collection barrel to the end of your downspouts.  This collects water from your roof and makes it available for future garden watering needs.  You can also consider adding a rain garden.  This is a garden designed to collect and store water in the soil and release it through the evapotranspiration of the plants in the garden.  Finally, you can use permeable paving in place of the impermeable paving choices (such as concrete, asphalt and gravel) most frequently used for drives and walks.
    Every drop of rain collected and retained on your site is a step toward helping return the streams of your area to a healthy state.

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