The Case for Saving the Rain
Have you ever thought about the connection between how neighborhoods and cities are designed and how the rain impacts our environment? The impermeable surfaces that surround us—from vast parking lots to endless roads—can collect billions of gallons of water in just one rainfall. If that water is not redirected for beneficial uses, it can transport pollutants into our waterways. We seldom think of rainwater as a culprit in the pollution problem, but the influx of water into our sewage systems during a big storm carries contaminants from our streets into our waterways and the ecosystems that depend on them. Residents, especially those in single-family homes, can take one simple step that can dramatically change the impact rainfall has on pollution: collecting rainwater.
Imagine a parking lot and all that you find on the ground. Car fluids, cigarette butts, litter, and often salt. When rain falls or snow melts on these debris-covered surfaces, it sends thousands of gallons of water and trash straight into the sewer system that ultimately runs into our larger waterways. The average US middle-class home has approximately 2,500 square feet of impermeable surfaces. Depending on the region, approximately 60,500 gallons of rain falls on those surfaces per year. In most cities, wastewater from your home shares the same system as the storm water, so when there is heavy rainfall, the sewer can’t handle the added volume, and it spills into the wastewater system, with both now becoming the runoff into our rivers and streams as Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). When you add up the effect of all the houses, roadways, and parking lots in a city, they create billions of gallons of polluted water that then travel through our sewer systems and enter our waterways. When this high volume of polluted water leaves the sewer system and enters the rivers and streams, it can contribute to erosion. And when erosion continues over a long period of time, it can lead to flooding in the surrounding areas, which destroys wildlife habitat.
A Viable Solution
Redirecting, storing, and using storm water systems is both simple and cost effective. It can benefit homeowners and the ecosystem by reducing a household’s water bill and lowering the amount of pollutants that enter our waterways. Some household solutions include rain barrels, cisterns, splash blocks, soaker hoses, rain chains, pervious concrete or surfaces, and rain gardens. Other more industrial options include curb cuts, bio- swales, and retention ponds. These solutions are a great way to start addressing the issue of runoff in urban environments.
One of the easiest ways for homeowners to do their part is to install a rain barrel. Rain barrels collect the water from your gutters and save it for you to use around your home. In addition to helping address the issue of runoff, rain barrels save you money by lowering your water bill. As homes require less water from the municipal water facilities, it lowers the demand for treated water. Some sewer providers, especially those managed by municipal or city governments, offer incentives for utilizing rainwater management systems, including discounts or financial incentives to install rain barrels. Your sewer company is a good resource to find out more information on regulations and incentive qualifications.
Estimate your annual collection with this rainwater calculator.