There are a number of ways to manage stormwater runoff on a site.  The most effective way is to prevent it from occuring in the first place.  This can be done through Low Impact Development (LID), “an innovative land planning and engineering design approach which seeks to maintain a sites pre-development ecological and hydrologic function through the protection, enhancement, and/or mimicry of natural processes.” In simpler terms, LID tries to maintain the natural characteristics and function (green infrastructure) of a site so that it can continue to provide a variety of social, economic, and environmental benefits.

LID is based on eight main principles (from Vermont DEC Green Infrastructure page):

When effectively used, LID can be a great tool for mitigating issues associated with stormwater runoff because in general it serves to slow water down, spread it out, and soak it in. Often, LID strategies use water that falls on a site’s impervious surfaces (roofs, walkways, parking areas) for functional and sometimes beautiful applications. Conventional development, on the contrary, centralizes flow and increases overland speed. This contributes to pollutant loading, streambank erosion, and localized flooding.

Unfortunately, not all sites are developed using LID. In fact, the vast majority of existing homes and buildings were constructed using conventional development. On these sites, we focus on using Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) to restore hydrologic function. GSI is a variety of “systems and practices that restore and maintain natural hydrologic processes in order to reduce the volume and water quality impacts of the built environment while providing multiple societal benefits.” These are practices that were developed with nature in mind and often serve more than a singular function. A rain barrel, for instance, provides local storage of water and can also be used to water plants.

Here we outline a few of the most popular GSI elements and break them down so you can get started putting your stormwater to good use.

Downspout Disconnection

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Do you have gutters and downspouts on your house? If so, do you know where they go? Some homes were built with downspouts connected directly into the storm-sewer system via a standpipe installed at the base of the home. Other times, homeowners direct their downspouts onto a driveway to encourage water to flow away from the foundation. Neither of these practices are great options for protecting water quality in our rivers and lakes as they lead to increased volume and pollutants which damage waterways and wildlife habitat. Disconnecting and redirecting those downspouts is easy to do and can open up opportunities for you to use that valuable water for landscaping.

Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are fun to make, easy to install and provide a reliable source of irrigation water in the dry months. This Rain Barrel How-To gives you the step-by-step instructions you’ll need to get started.

Want to just buy one? Many local garden centers sell premade barrels in a variety of styles. Jack’s Composters & Rain Barrels is a VT company in North Hero who have been making quality rain-collection units for decades. 

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Rain Gardens

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 Rain gardens take about the same care as any perennial garden but simultaneously capture and treat stormwater runoff. Rain gardens can come in a variety of sizes and shapes and can be beautiful additions to a lawn or right-of-way and have the added benefit of helping to keep our lakes and rivers cleaner. The Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District made this handy Vermont Rain Garden Manual with detailed instructions for how to design and install your very own functional landscaping feature. This manual boasts an extensive list of site-appropriate plants to choose from and some design inspirations for different kinds of sites. Before you construct your own, contact Dig Safe to be sure you aren’t going to interfere with any underground utilities.

Rain gardens can be found all over Vermont on private and public lands. You can even adopt your very own rain garden at a park or library near you. Find out more about that program here.

Cisterns

 

Cisterns are really just really big rain barrels. They are popular choices at businesses where lots of water is used, like farms and automotive shops. Residential sites can benefit from them too. All that clean water that falls on the roof can be used to wash cars and homes, water gardens and trees, fill swimming pools and with a little plumbing flush indoor toilets. If you live in Vermont and want to use the water in the cistern year-round, an underground model is best. Cisterns come in all sizes, shapes and materials – some newer models can fit snugly under a deck or wrap neatly around an outside corner of a home. If you need help deciding on one, give us a call and we will gladly help.

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Permeable Walks and Driveways 

 

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Vermont has seen an increase in the use of permeable road surfaces in recent years. There are several types of pervious materials that are used as parking, driving and walking surfaces but the basic idea behind each is the same – a deep base of gravel and sand form the underlayment for a top layer that can pass water through it. The technology comes in the form of concrete, asphalt and pavers. The base provides structure and pore space where water can be held after a rain event as it slowly infiltrates into the surrounding soils. Many of the materials have been used with success for decades in Europe but new developments are making them more robust in our cold climate. Another driving factor is the high cost of land making permeable surfaces a desirable solution for developers. Just as important to remember is the reduction of surface stormwater flow from these porous materials. The more rain we can contain and infiltrate, the better for the health of our precious waterways. Click here for more information on these and other pervious road surfaces.

There are other practices that qualify too – like vegetated swales and dry wells. So, if you’ve got an idea for how to store or absorb your stormwater, let us know. We are happy to provide assistance, advise, a site visit and cash to eligible applicants.