IDEA: Reduce Stormwater Runoff – Retrofit with Rain Gardens, Street Trees and Swales

Native landscape Photographer Peter Champion
Above: In a public, community area, permeable gravel path on this site with slight slope and with native planting alongside prevents run-off into storm-water drains
Above: At Home, permeable surfaces in the garden where possible for rain penetration into our natural, underground water storage systems.

Rain + Impermeable Surfaces = Storm-water Runoff
Recently, many areas around Australia, including the cities of Brisbane and Sydney, experienced an horrific rain and hail storms causing tens of millions of dollars damage to certain parts of those cities. Rain can fall as a drizzle, a steady patter or a in this case, a deluge. Such rain is desperately needed in many parts of Australia to bring crops to life but in this case, it brought trouble.

Urban and suburban areas around the globe have an abundance of impermeable surfaces – pavements, driveways, roofs, roads, footpaths and more and stormwater flowing over such surfaces creates a major source of pollution reaching our waterways.   As the water flows over these surfaces and into the stormwater drains, absorbing excess nutrients, oils and other contaminants in its path, we tend to ignore consequences at the other end. Large storm events can also overwhelm municipal sewer systems, leading to overflows that result in tainted runoff from these systems and raw sewerage as well. The end result can mean impaired water bodies locally as well as far downstream or in bays or oceans.

There are low-cost, innovative solutions – i.e.“green infrastructure,” that are scattered around some urban and suburban areas that if adopted more widely by individuals and communities, could improve stormwater management and protect human health and the health of waterways. Green infrastructure refers to techniques that mimic nature to absorb, slow, pool and cleanse stormwater. Such techniques can range simply from planting more street trees, mini-parks along roadways,  rain barrels below downpipes, the inclusion of rain water storage tanks in our house plans which can be placed underground during construction, rain gardens on any scale from small nature strip gardens to watershed-scale strategic plans that identify best practices to implement across entire communities.

The greenery of Melbourne CBD

The research is there for our politicians and local leaders.  Researchers are providing data, knowledge and tools needed to advance green infrastructure for healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities and landscapes and yet the uptake of such knowledge is very slow.    In the meantime, each of us can lead the effort to identify actions to take around our own environment – at home or in the workplace.  It is not rocket-science, just common sense.  I will share ideas and beneficial impacts of green infrastructue on my Pinterest board: Green Infrastructure.

Jan Couper M.Ed.; M.Env.
Sustainability and Landscape Resilience Strategist

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