Storm water is becoming a more critical issue every day. As urban sprawl continues to replace natural areas with impervious surfaces, we compromise the hydrologic cycle's natural ability to filter water and recharge aquifers. Instead, of rain drops irrigating the areas on which they fall, storm water runs off pavement, accumulates in the streets, and enters the storm sewer. The water is often carrying a myriad of pollutants picked up along the way, like motor oil, antifreeze, heavy metals and even pathogens. In most cities, storm sewers empty their contents into near by water ways. Other cities still have combined sewers and storm water overwhelms the capacity of thier waste water treatment facilities and release valves often discharge raw sewage and liquid industrial waste into nearby water ways. In either scenario, the ever increasing storm water runoff poses major problems for cities and its citizens, along with causing major damage to riparian habitats.
Storm water is not only a hazard and a expense for cities, but businesses as well. Storm water mitigation methods must be employed for most newly constructed buildings, leading to the addition of impervious surfaces like parking lots and rooftops. Retention ponds, and in some cases large underground storage tanks, must be installed and maintained at the expense of the building or business owner.
As with most solutions derived from sustainable mind sets, there are ways to be proactive about storm water mitigation as an individual home owner or a business owner, such as capturing storm water as the rain falls and using it for irrigation or hand washing. A common and very simple method of rainwater harvesting is the placement of rain barrels under gutters. The landscape around buildings can also be designed to allow storm water to infiltrate the ground, rather than run off to the storm sewer. Methods such as creating a rain garden are also effective. As a result, the water recharges aquifers in the ground and does not present an added expense to business owners, local treatment facilities or area water bodies. Another very effective way to reduce storm water runoff is to install green roofs on buildings. Green roofs are beneficial in many ways besides capturing rain water such as extending the life of the roof, keeping the building cool in summer and warm in winter, providing habitat for birds, reducing the urban heat island effect, absorbing Carbon Dioxide and creating aesthetically pleasing green space amidst surrounding concrete.
The most important thing to realize is that at our rate of growth and consumption of open green space, we as business owners and individual home owners must begin to employ storm water reduction methods before our water ways and city infrastructure is completely overwhelmed.
CDM is a consulting, engineering, construction, and operations firm providing service to public and private clients worldwide. The CDM site offers case studies on various water management strategies.
The OAS brings together the countries of the Western Hemisphere to strengthen cooperation and advance common interests. It is the regionís premier forum for multilateral dialogue and concerted action.
This OAS document explains the basics of rainwater harvesting, using rooftop catchments, and also provides information on the extent that rainwater harvesting is used throughout the world. It offers tips for operation and maintenance, advantages and disadvantages, and many other pertinent sub-topics.
Rain Gardens of West Michigan is an environmental education program focused on storm water education and the values of using rain gardens and native plants in landscaping to improve water quality by reducing stormwater runoff. Born out of the recognized need to protect Michiganís waterways, flora,and fauna, this site is a great educational tool and resource for those who want to be a part of the solution and create a rain garden of their own.
Funded by the Steelcase Foundation of Grand Rapids, Michigan
Header photo by Carol Y. Swinehart, courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant Extension
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