by Wes Yohey
Good water practices aren't just great for the environment; it has a compounding benefit throughout our ecological and water systems, and, better yet, your wallet.
Managing Storm Water
Rain rushes off roofs, pavement and compacted soil in many suburban areas. This rush of storm water causes flooding downstream, erodes soil and stream banks, and muddies the water, which is harmful to fish and other wildlife. Storm water also picks up chemicals, debris, dirt, and other pollutants and flows into the storm sewer system or directly into a lake, stream, river or other body of water. The storm sewer discharge is untreated entering the bodies of water we use for swimming, fishing and drinking. Reducing irrigation water use, in combination with reducing impervious surface areas and pollutants such as pesticides, helps to minimize the negative impacts of storm water runoff.
Porous paving bricks
Porous paving bricks and pervious parking areas can help reduce storm water runoff by allowing rainwater to soak into the ground.
You can help slow runoff and help the soil hold the moisture plants need in summer by directing downspouts out into lawns (but away from the house), rain gardens, or rain barrels; and limiting impervious "hardscape" surfaces.
Rain gardens are landscaped areas designed to soak up rainwater from your roof, driveway, and/or lawn. These gardens collect rainwater runoff and filter and slowly release it into the ground, and typically can retain 30 percent more rainwater than a conventional patch of lawn. By reducing the volume and velocity of storm water runoff, rain gardens help reduce soil erosion, filter fine particulates, and capture fertilizer and excess nutrients that can pollute rivers and lakes. Planting dense strips of native trees, shrubs and groundcovers next to streams, lakes and ditches helps to stabilize the soil and to slow and filter runoff.
Mulch is a layer of organic material like leaves, aged wood chips, or grass clippings that you spread around your plants (in the Rocky Mountains and Southwest, rock mulches are preferable). Mulch stabilizes soil temperature, prevents weeds, adds nutrients to the soil to help feed plants, and helps to conserve water.
Compost helps sandy soils hold nutrients and water, loosens clay soils, and feeds the beneficial soil life so it can feed and protect your plants. You can make your own compost at home, or buy it in bags or bulk. Read more about composting on our Composting Article.
Use porous pavement, gravel paving blocks, or other pavement options that let rain seep into the soil, in place of asphalt and traditional concrete. Porous pavement is a special type of pavement that allows rain and snowmelt to pass through it, thereby reducing the runoff from a site and surrounding areas. In addition, porous pavement can filter pollutants from the runoff.
Another alternative is to collect rainwater from rooftops in rain barrels - mosquito-proof containers that collect and store rainwater that would otherwise wind up in storm drains and streams. Rain provides free soft water to homeowners-containing no chlorine, lime or calcium, making it ideal for gardens, flower pots, and car and window washing.
A rain barrel can also be used to collect water and store it for when you need it most-during periods of drought-to water plants, wash your car, or to top off a swimming pool. A rain barrel will save the average homeowner about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months, or 40% of total household water use (some drought-prone regions do not allow rain retention, check with local authorities before considering).
Fertilizer and Pesticide
Chemical fertilizers applied to lawns and gardens contribute to pollutants in our water supply by sometimes washing off during heavier rains or even through overwatering. While natural in a heavy rain, water run-off can also be attributed to heavy lawn thatch or compacted soil or a combination of the two. In addition, yard clippings and leaves can wash into storm drains and contribute excessive nutrients and organic matter to the watershed (surprisingly, excessive nutrients can be as much of a concern to water treatment plants as pollutants). Use chemical pesticides and fertilizers sparingly and always in strict accordance with the manufacturers application directions. Whenever possible, use compost and other non-toxic alternatives when possible. Read more about fertilizers at our articles, Fertilizers & Compost, What is Fertilizer? and Organic Fertilizers.
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