Eco-Friendly Landscaping: 3 Storm-Water Solutions
For those of us experiencing drought, a post about storm water solutions may seem ironic. But think again: With the earth parched and dry, when rain does come, we desperately need that water to stay. If we don’t act now to retain the much-needed rain when it does come, it will run off and do us little good. Wherever you live, what can you do now to preserve the rainfall that inevitably will return? Please read and consider. ~Julia Wasson, Publisher
Rain happens. Apart from blessing it for watering our plants — or cursing it for keeping us indoors — many homeowners don’t think much about where all of that water goes once it hits our property. However, as our neighborhoods become increasingly covered with impervious surfaces (roofs, patios, roads and driveways), that needs to change.
Roofs and other impervious surfaces change the way rainwater behaves, increasing the volume of runoff and accelerating the rate at which it flows through our local watersheds. This ultimately leads to erosion of stream banks, degraded wildlife habitats and the introduction of pollutants picked up along the way.
If you want to make your home more Earth-friendly, one of the most significant things you can do is incorporate storm-water management techniques into your landscape. By combining some of these methods, you can help diffuse the runoff from your home in order to minimize its impact on the environment. Or, as eco-conscious cities such as Santa Cruz, Calif., put it: “Slow it. Spread it. Sink it.”
1. Plant Trees
The simple act of planting more trees on your property will provide manifold storm-water benefits down the road. Not only do trees capture and store rainwater in their leaves and branches, but they also improve water quality by acting as a filter and holding soil in place so less sediment enters the water stream. In a small storm, trees can reduce runoff volume by as much as 35%, and a single mature tree with a 30-foot crown can intercept more than 700 gallons of rainfall every year, according to the Bureau of Environmental Services in Portland, Oregon.
To maximize the environmental impact of your trees:
- Position them so their canopy covers impervious areas, such as patios and driveways, where they can capture the water before it reaches the ground.
- Include evergreens, which will intercept more water in winter than their deciduous counterparts.
2. Minimize Impervious Surfaces
You can reduce the amount of impervious surface area on your property by replacing concrete patios, walkways and other high-traffic surfaces with permeable pavers. Unlike concrete, permeable pavers have gaps that allow storm water to pass through and soak into the ground. They’re so effective they can reduce (and in some cases eliminate) the need for an underground storm drain system.
Other tactics for reducing impermeable surfaces around your home:
- Replace the center of your driveway with mulch or grass, leaving only two strips of pavement to accommodate your car’s tires.
- Use mulch or gravel for low-traffic areas of your landscape and turf block for medium-traffic areas.
3. Collect Roof Runoff
In many developed cities, roofs cover 20% or more of the total surface area — which means they account for a significant chunk of storm runoff. On a day with ½ inch rainfall, a 1,000-square-foot roof will yield more than 300 gallons of rainwater. Instead of letting this water flood into the local sewer system, you can install rain barrels at each of your home’s downspouts to capture and store your relatively clean roof runoff for use around your property.
4. Build a Rain Garden
A rain garden (a shallow depression in your yard filled with water-loving plants) will capture much of your home’s runoff and allow it to slowly sink into the ground. When designed well, such a feature can dramatically reduce the volume and flow rate of storm water. When planning your rain garden, consider the following:
- Rain gardens should be planted at least 10 feet away from your home’s foundation. You can use downspout extensions to send roof runoff directly to your rain garden.
- Design your rain garden so it drains within 30-48 hours after a rainfall in order to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
These are just a few of the many storm water solutions you can apply to your home.
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Steve Stewart is president of Landscape East & West, an award winning full-service landscaping and garden-design company based in Portland, Oregon. The company was recently recognized as one of the Top 100 Green Companies to Work for in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine.