What is Stormwater Runoff?
Stormwater runoff is rain that falls on streets, parking areas, sports fields, gravel lots, rooftops or other developed land and flows directly into nearby rivers and aquefor. The drizzling or pounding rain picks up and mixes with what's on the ground:
- Oil, grease, metals and coolants from vehicles;
- Fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals from gardens and homes;
- Bacteria from pet wastes and failing septic systems;
- Soil from poor construction site practices;
- Soaps from car washing; and
- Accidental spills, vehicle or equipment washing, or leaky storage containers.
The dirty runoff then rushes into nearby gutters and storm drains and into the Great Miami River, its tributaries, and the aquifer that supplies area drinking water. In most areas, stormwater runoff enters these waters without being cleaned of pollutants.
Why Is Stormwater a Problem?
Across the U.S., unmanaged stormwater runoff has caused serious damage to streams, lakes and aquifers, particularly where land uses change from rural to urban activities. It is taking its toll in Ohio, too. Nearly half of Ohio's cities, industries, and households depend on ground water for drinking, processing, and irrigation. Trenton sits atop the Great Miami River aquifer, which supplies water for area homes, industry and farms.
Poorly managed stormwater causes three big problems:
- Pollution from stormwater contaminates our waters, closes local businesses, and harms or kills fish and other wildlife. As stormwater passes over developed land, it picks up pollutants and transports them to the nearest storm drain and eventually the Great Miami aquifer.
- Flooding harms streams and wetlands and destroys habitat needed for fish and other wildlife. Unable to soak into the ground, stormwater quickly flows or floods downstream from developed land during the rainy season. As a result, floods can damage homes and businesses, flood septic system drain fields and overwhelm streams, wetlands and wildlife habitat.
- Water shortages in growing communities may occur, especially in developed areas with impervious surfaces or areas where water cannot filtrate through, such as roads, parking lots and rooftops. The impervious surfaces keep rainfall from soaking into the ground and replenishing groundwater and streams used for drinking water or fish habitat.
What Can You Do?
A pollution permit or a treatment plant can't solve stormwater pollution, because stormwater runoff comes from small, individual sources in all parts of the watershed. It is a problem that everyone plays a part in solving. It is a problem that residents can change by stopping small, individual activities that cause pollution and result in large-scale pollution. It is a problem that communities can manage to prevent stormwater runoff as development takes place.
You can do a lot to help minimize stormwater problems.
Start with doing one of the actions on the following Top 10 list:
- Maintain your car or truck. Never dump anything down a storm drain. Always recycle used oil, antifreeze and other fluids. Fix oil leaks in your vehicles.
- Wash your car at a commercial car wash rather than in the street or in your driveway. If you wash your car at home, wash it on your lawn.
- Drive less. Leave your car at home at least one day each week and take a bus, carpool or bike to work. Combine errands when you drive. Get vehicle emissions checked and repaired. Buy a low emission vehicle.
- Cut down on fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. If you use these chemicals, follow directions and use them sparingly. Don't fertilize before a rainstorm. Consider using organic fertilizers. Let your lawn go golden brown in the summer months; it will rebound in the fall. Compost or mulch lawn clippings. Preserve existing trees or plant new ones - trees hold rainfall and help manage stormwater.
- Remove part or all of your lawn. Lawns require a lot of watering, mowing and caring. Replace part of your lawn with native, drought-resistant plants. Add compost to planting soil and dress it with mulch to improve plant growth and reduce stormwater runoff.
- If you are on a septic system, maintain the system. Septic systems require regular inspections, maintenance and pumping, or they will fail, cost a lot of money to fix and could pollute nearby lakes and streams. Have a professional inspector check your system regularly and have it pumped out when needed.
- Pick up after your pets and keep animals out of streams. Scoop your dog's poop and properly dispose of it. Also, make sure fences and other structures are keeping cows, horses and other animals out of streams. Compost manure in a designated area so that it doesn't wash off into nearby waterways.
- Reduce impervious surfaces at home and increase the vegetated land cover of your property. Impervious surfaces include your roof, driveway, patios and lawn. Reduce rooftop runoff by directing your downspouts to vegetated areas, and not to the storm drain on your street. For your driveway and patios, consider putting in permeable paving or patterns of cement and brick that allow water to filter through it.
- Support your local storm or surface water program. Programs to maintain a community's stormwater system, prevent flooding and protect natural resources may cost money in the short run but save money for damages to public and private property in the long term. Take advantage of opportunities to educate yourself and your family about your local watershed. Consider volunteering for stream restoration or other local volunteer projects.
- Make smart growth choices. Choose to live in a neighborhood that provides you with all conveniences- low maintenance homes and lawns, nearby shopping, walking paths, easy-access to buses and trains, and green, open spaces to enjoy.