Countdown To Earth Day: What YOU Can Do To Stop Stormwater Runoff, Water Pollution (PLUS: A Fun Experiment!)
- The Kane County Board Energy And Environmental Committee, Kane County Division of Environmental and Water Resources and Kane County Connects are teaming up for a “Count Down to Earth Day” series celebrating the success stories and spotlighting the environmental challenges we face right here, right now in Kane County, IL. Today’s essay is written by Kane County Environmental and Water Resources Engineer Anne Wilford and supplemented with a fun experiment idea was contributed by Jessica Mino, Kane and Kendall County program director for The Conservation Foundation.
According to the Water Environment Federation, stormwater is the only growing source of water pollution in many watersheds across the country — and it happens way too often here in Kane County, IL.
With urban populations expected to grow to nearly 70% by 2050, and more frequent and intense storms occurring across the country, there is ever-increasing pressure on stormwater systems and water infrastructure.
Scroll down to find out what can YOU do to improve the water quality before the runoff reaches our lakes, rivers and streams. But first, here’s a little primer on stormwater runoff.
What Is Stormwater Runoff?
When it rains or the snow melts, the water that flows over the land is called stormwater runoff. If the rain falls on undeveloped land, much of the water can soak into the ground. If the rainfall lands on impervious surfaces, such as streets, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots and roof tops, it does not have a chance to infiltrate or get soaked up into the ground.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 55% of stormwater runoff in urban areas is unable to soak into the ground.
As it flows, the runoff picks up pollutants like bacteria, chemicals, pesticides, animal waste, oils, sediment or even garbage. The runoff eventually makes its way to our lakes, rivers and streams.
What happens to that stormwater runoff before it finds its way to a body of water?
- Sometimes the stormwater is collected and transported in storm sewers before making its way to a body of water.
- In many rural communities, the stormwater may be conveyed through an open channel system, such as roadside ditches.
- In older urban communities, the stormwater might be collected in what is called a Combined Sewer System. Combined sewer systems collect sewage and stormwater runoff into one sewer, which transport both the sewage and stormwater to a Wastewater Treatment facility for treatment prior to discharge. However, with these combined sewers, when the volume of the sewer waters exceeds the capacity of the system, such as in a heavy rainfall event, the combined wastewater might be discharged with little or no treatment into a community’s lakes, rivers or streams.
- Stormwater controls designed by engineers are now used in construction and development to filter out many of the pollutants right on-site, before entering the sewer system and our lakes, rivers and streams.
What YOU Can Do To Stop Stormwater Pollution
Here are few things you can do to help with stormwater pollution:
- Rain barrels can be a great way to use that rain water effectively and decrease the stormwater runoff for your property. Kane County and The Conservation Foundation are currently hosting a Rain Barrel and Compost Bin sale.
- Properly dispose of your household hazardous waste, such as cleaning supplies, pesticides or medication. Do not dump chemicals down your sink, toilet, stormwater drain, sanitary sewer or in your yard. Click here to find out how to properly dispose of your household hazardous waste.
- Cut down on your use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Always follow directions on these products and use sparingly. The less we use, the less we have in the stormwater runoff.
- Maintain your vehicles. Fix those oil leaks on your car. Properly dispose of your used oil, antifreeze and other fluids.
- Pick up your pet waste. Click here to learn about proper pet waste management.
- Consider adding a rain garden to improve the infiltration of stormwater runoff on your property.
- Thinking of putting in a patio? Consider minimizing impervious area or consider using permeable pavers for your patio. Here is information on this topic from the EPA website.
- Use native plantings in your landscaping to help soak up and filter the stormwater runoff. Please refer to this Kane County Connects article on planting natives in your back yard.
- Get involved with one of many local volunteer groups who work to clean up and create awareness about our local watersheds. Here are few groups for you to consider:
Try This Experiment
The information above mentioned things that we can do in our everyday lives to reduce pollution associated with stormwater runoff. Here’s a home experiment to get the whole family thinking about stormwater runoff.
What is happening as the runoff picks up pollutants like bacteria, chemicals, pesticides, animal waste, oils, sediment or even garbage on its way to our lakes, rivers and streams?
As the runoff flows over land, it follows the drainage patterns, flowing from higher elevations to lower elevations. It enters the stormwater conveyance systems and eventually flows in streams, rivers, lakes and then the ocean.
This simple experiment demonstrates that runoff picks up pollutants before it reaches a body of water.
- Piece of white paper. (The paper represents the land.)
- Water-soluble color markers. (Choose a few different colors. The markers will represent different types of pollutants such as pet waste, fertilizers, chemicals and oils.)
- Spray bottle of water. (This represents the rainfall.)
- A pan or towel to catch the water.
- Draw and color on the piece of paper color with different colors of marker.
- Crumple the paper in a ball and then smooth it out, leaving some ridges. (These ridges represent the topography of the land.)
- Place the paper in the pan or on the towel. Try to angle the paper so one end is higher than the other. (The lower end represents where the water would be leaving the community to enter a body of water.)
- Spray the paper with water and watch the water flow across the paper.
- How was the water’s color different at higher elevations versus the lower elevations?
- Did the colors blend together in the flowing water?
- Think about your back yard. When it rains are there different pollutants that the water could pick up? Where does the stormwater runoff flow to?
- Think about what you want to do clean up the runoff from your back yard. Is it time to scoop the poop? Could you pull those weeds in the garden instead of spraying?
More Teaching Opportunities
Looking for other opportunities to teach the family about stormwater runoff pollution? Try these websites:
Read The Countdown To Earth Day Series
- No. 16: Introduction — Everyone in Kane County Rides on Planet Earth
- No. 15: How To Enjoy an Eco-Friendly Easter
- No. 14: Recycle Your TVs, Computers, Electronics, Clothes, And Books!
- No. 13: Shinrin-Yoku May Be Your Ticket to Wellness
- No. 12: Water Conservation Should Be Higher on Our Priority Lists
- No. 11: Save The Planet And Save Money With Home Energy Improvements
- No. 10: Macramé and Harvest Gold – A 1970s Tale of Reducing And Reusing
- No. 9: Get Your Affordable Compost Bins, Rain Barrels This Spring
- No. 8: Kane County Forest Preserve District Needs Citizen Scientists!
- No. 7: TODAY — What YOU Can Do To Stop Stormwater Runoff