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Helping to Save Our Lakes: Taking Care of Stormwater!!!

Posted: May 21, 2012

Many of our neighborhoods in Pennsylvania have beautiful streams and lakes, which are being degraded due to excessive stormwater runoff.
Photo from blog.vermontwildflowerfarm.com

Photo from blog.vermontwildflowerfarm.com

Impervious surfaces, such as parking areas, streets and rooftops concentrates this runoff and then discharges large amount of highly polluted water into our streams and lakes. These pollutants can include litter, pet waste, vehicle fluids, fertilizers and pesticides.

Studies from the Center for Watershed Protection have shown that significant impairment of streams and lakes often occurs when 10% of the land in the watershed is covered in parking lots and rooftops. However, if the watershed exceeds 25% impervious area, severe ecosystem and water quality impairment can occur through stream bank erosion and channelization, increased nutrient pollution and flash flooding.

What can homeowners and communities implement to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff on the streams in their communities?

One way is to reduce stormwater runoff is to install rain barrels. Rain barrels catch the runoff from rooftops and store water for future landscape uses. During the summer, lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of a typical household’s water use. A rain barrel could save a homeowner about 1,300 gallons of water during the summer months.

Another way to reduce stormwater runoff is install rain gardens. A rain garden is a technique in which plants and soils remove pollutants from stormwater, improving water quality. A rain garden allows about 30% more water to soak into the ground compared to conventional lawns. Benefits of rain gardens include: increasing the amount of water recharging the groundwater while reducing pollutants such as sediments and nutrients from entering your lake; providing valuable wildlife habitat for birds and butterflies; and reducing erosion of stream banks.

Finally, homeowners can preserve the natural landscape that is on their property. Existing wooded areas, mature trees and natural terrain provide shade in the summer months, wildlife habitat for songbirds and mammals, and absorb and use rainfall. According to the American Forestry Association, a single urban tree provides a savings of $273 per year by reducing heating and cooling costs; sheltering and feeding wildlife; and diminishes the impacts of stormwater runoff.

For more information on rain gardens and other ways to reduce stormwater runoff in your community, visit the Penn State Extension Discovery Watershed Stormwater Management website.

Peter T. Wulfhorst
Penn State Extension
Pike County