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To Manage Stormwater Sustainably, Understand Your Site
The key to creating a truly resilient and sustainable stormwater management plan for your home landscape is to understand your site. Look at how water works in your landscape and how it fits into the big picture. Identify existing issues and opportunities for improvement, and respond to your site’s stormwater needs in a way that’s best for your climate. Here’s how to get started:
1. See the Big PictureIt’s helpful to look at your landscape as a whole when analyzing how water moves through it. Watch your yard during a heavy rain and take notes on where and how water moves and puddles. How do different surfaces and areas of the garden interact? Seeing your landscape during a rainstorm will help you think about the bigger picture for it’s stormwater design.In the yard here, water from the roof runs through the downspout to a rock swale that carries it through the garden. The decking and planted areas harmonize beautifully with the rock swale as it flows through the space.
2. Identify Issues and OpportunitiesMost homeowners don’t know they have a water problem until their basement floods or a drought kills all of their garden plants. Before this happens, walk through your site and look for clues about how the water is behaving.Here is a list of questions to ask to help you identify challenges and opportunities for improved stormwater management in your landscape.
- Which surfaces are contributing to runoff? Calculate the square footage of the roof, driveway, patio, walkways and other nonpermeable surfaces. See runoff as an opportunity for integrating water movement into your landscape design. Swales and rain gardens can be beautiful features.
- Where is water pooling or sitting for prolonged periods of time? It’s normal for water to pool in spots during a heavy rain, but it should drain away within 24 hours or less. Depending on the situation, areas with pooling water are an opportunity for regrading. Grading reshapes the ground to manage water and help tie together areas of the garden.
- Where are soils eroding? Soil erosion is a major concern and will only accelerate over time if it is not stopped. Even minor erosion will get worse with time. Areas with soil erosion are great places to plant ground covers and vines that stabilize soil.
- Are there drought-prone areas? Check your plants on a warm, sunny afternoon for drooping leaves or sunburned foliage. Does the plant look wilted? Are the leaves being burned from sun exposure? These are signs that your current plants are drying out and will require too much irrigation to survive. The opportunity here is to plant species that need hot, full sun to flower. Depending on your climate, they could be succulents or native perennials.
Store, slow, spread and sink runoff. Storing water is a great way to reduce irrigation demand and intercept runoff. In the space here, a roof downspout directs roof water to a rain barrel for storage.Slowing down and spreading runoff with swales and rain gardens helps to prevent flash flooding downstream. Green roofs and permeable paving are other great methods for intercepting stormwater at the source.
Allowing water to infiltrate the soil — also called sinking the water — whenever possible is the best thing you can do for your landscape and the environment.