Soak up the rain – Part 1

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

In August, 2014, I-696 had dangerous flooding due to a massive rain storm. Green infrastructure practices could have reduced flood impacts. Photo credit: AP Photo/Detroit News, David Coates

In August, 2014, I-696 had dangerous flooding due to a massive rain storm. Green infrastructure practices could have reduced flood impacts. Photo credit: AP Photo/Detroit News, David Coates

In August 2014, Southeast Michigan was hit with massive storms dropping four to six inches of rain in four hours. This resulted in major flooding on roads, freeways, floodplains, parks and golf courses. As these flood waters subsided, it carried pollutants into local storm drains, rivers, lakes and streams.

The EPA’s Soak Up the Rain public outreach campaign has been developed to raise awareness about the problem of storm water runoff and potential pollutants and to encourage citizens and communities to take action to reduce runoff and its costly impacts to communities and the environment.

As communities continue to grow and develop, open spaces such as forests, parks and grassy areas, are replaced with impervious surfaces - roofs, parking lots and other pavement. These impervious surfaces cause storm water runoff. Instead of soaking into the ground, the runoff ends up in streets and storm drains, possibly carrying with it pollutants, including fertilizer, gas and oil, bacteria and soil. This untreated runoff ends up in local streams, rivers and lakes. Polluted runoff is one of the greatest threats to clean water in the U.S. according to the EPA.

The Soak Up the Rain program has identified a number of benefits that communities can accomplish by reducing runoff in their community:

Prevent water pollution: By keeping rain water onsite, it reduces potential pollution from getting into local water resources that may be used for drinking water supplies.

Reduce flooding: By diverting rain water onto pervious surfaces, it prevents it from running into streets and other roadways causing flooding. It also reduces soil and stream bank erosion. An estimate from i-Tree , a site for assessing and managing forests and community trees, is that certain species of mature trees can absorb nearly eight gallons of water from flood areas each day. Or can absorb over 2,800 gallons of water annually.

Protect water resources: Water that soaks into the ground, replenishes local groundwater sources and surface lakes and rivers.

Improve resiliency to climate change: As changes are occurring in different parts of the country, green infrastructure can assist in managing the effect of climate change.

Beautify neighborhoods: By incorporating green infrastructure in the form of trees and rain gardens, we’re adding beauty and character to the neighborhoods.

Cool the air: Using trees and other plantings can reduce urban heat islands by cooling the air that results from increased impervious surfaces.

Save money: By soaking up rain and other precipitation, it reduces the amount being handled by local water treatment facilities. This will reduce water management costs. Green roofs can reduce energy costs. Permeable pavement can reduce construction costs by reducing the need for some drainage features of convention development.

Create habitat: Trees, shrubs, perennials and native plants suitable for the location will create habitat for birds and insects, including butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

In Part 2 of this series, specific actions to reduce runoff will be discussed. 

Additional articles in this series:

Soak up the rain – Part 2

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