Surface runoff is a major contributor to water pollution, triggered by the vast amount of cleared open space, roofs, roads and parking lots in modern day suburbia. These are all examples of manmade, nonpoint sources that concentrate litter, road salt, oil, pesticides, gasoline, and other toxins before sending them directly to the nearest water catchment. Runoff surfaces sometimes bring dirty water to sewage systems, but usually provide a direct route to rivers, lakes, and other reservoirs that are often used as municipal water sources.
It boggles my mind to know that we are so picky about the water that we consume, yet we willingly allow these disgusting streams of festering wastewater to flow right back into the sources we take from. I love a good thunderstorm, but it breaks my heart watching storm water flow over massive parking lot areas and trickle down rooftops, just to end up untreated in a variety of ecological habitats.
This all makes me question our obsession with pavement and covering natural ground. How necessary are driveways, really? If we all love to walk through forests and ogle at nature’s beauty, why do we mow our lawns and cut down our trees and plants?
Rain gardens are an interesting engineering solution I’ve recently come across. The gardens are essentially a collection of native plants in place of what would normally be a storm water drain located in the lower elevations of, say, a parking lot. They are specially designed to act as a temporary storage area for water while effectively absorbing nutrients and using Earth’s natural filtration system.
This is something to be considered in largely paved regions, such as parking lots or school areas. If you already garden, consider making one in your own yard and feel good about cutting down on the massive amounts of filthy water that flow right to our lakes and rivers. Although rain gardens are a fair bit of work to construct, they are cheap, easy to maintain, visually appealing, and offer a much more sustainable solution to urban runoff than what is currently implemented.
For more information about building rain gardens, click here.