Reduce Rain Runoff: Combating the Issue of Stormwater Pollution

Sustainable Long Island’s column in the upcoming edition of The Corridor | Journal for Strategic Alliances

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Pathogens. Sediments. Heavy metals. Would you consider adding any of these appealing flavors to your drinking water? How about those of you who use that water for fishing, tourism, or recreation? Is that a more acceptable place for them? The answer to these questions will typically be a resounding no, but without the proper systems and projects in place, these contaminants can flow freely into your local water bodies.

This problem is caused by stormwater runoff – water from rain or melting snow that “runs off” across land and into the nearest stream, river, or ocean. Much of Long Island’s stormwater runoff discharges untreated into local bays, lakes, and beaches through a series of outfall pipes and drains. With little in the way of natural vegetation to capture and filter this stormwater on land, what enters these bodies of water is more likely to contain pollutants, such as:

  • Fertilizers and pesticides from landscaped yards;
  • Oil and tire residues from vehicles and machinery;
  • A host of disease causing bacteria from local streets, sidewalks, soils, and lawns.

According to the EPA, as of 2008 the total reported water infrastructure needs for the United States included $42.3 billion for stormwater management.  Locally, stormwater runoff is one of the top water quality issues across Long Island – a region relying on a sole source aquifer for drinking water, surrounded by beautiful ocean, and defined by three major estuaries – the Long Island Sound, the Peconic Estuary, and the Great South Bay.

So what is being done to combat this ongoing issue?

Organizations like Sustainable Long Island are tackling the problem community by community. We recently launched a new initiative entitled “Reduce Rain Runoff.” Funded by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute’s (NYSP2I) Community Grants Program, this rainwater capture and stormwater management program will implement conservation practices and emphasize the importance of more wisely and carefully using Long Island’s most valuable natural resource – water.

The ‘Reduce Rain Runoff’ initiative will have tangible, positive effects on the environment by reducing flooding from stormwater runoff, increasing the areas that allow for water recharge above a sole source aquifer, and lessening carbon dioxide throughout the atmosphere through the planting of new rain gardens, comprised of native plants, and bioswales. Sustainable Long Island will implement rainwater capture and stormwater runoff infrastructure projects in prominent public areas throughout the City of Long Beach and at the East Islip High School, accompanied by signage to explain its significance and importance. These projects may include some of the following green infrastructure components:

  • Rain gardens – a shallow depression that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses;
  • Flow-through planters – stores stormwater on top of the soil and filters pollutants;
  • Rain barrels – typically sit under any residential gutter downspout collecting rainwater to reuse in landscaping;
  • Bioswales – low-lying, excavated areas that have been planted with native vegetation to filter toxins;
  • Infiltration planters – raised structural planting beds that filter and infiltrate runoff.

But what about you? What can the average Long Islander do to reduce rain runoff and minimize stormwater pollution?

  • Keep it clean: Don’t litter and add to what’s already on the ground. Don’t self-pollute storm drains and clear away debris when you can. Don’t flush unwanted medications and other items down the toilet; take the time to drop them off at designated locations for appropriate disposal.
  • Consistent car care: Fix any leaks or spills coming from your vehicle. Always recycle used oil, antifreeze, and other related fluids. Don’t wash or flush them down the drain – dispose of them properly.
  • Cut down: Minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides, especially from November to April. Don’t overwater your lawn or garden. Sweep your driveway and sidewalks.
  • Go for the alternative: Use brick, gravel, cobble, stone, or permeable pavement when possible to allow water to filter naturally.
  • Focus on your furry friend: Pick up after your pets. Bag up waste. Properly discard.
  • Keep your mind on the gutter: Direct your roofing or housing drains to vegetated areas like the garden or lawn.
  • Skeptic about septics: Schedule regular inspection of your septic system. Prevent costly repairs by checking for leaks. Pump it when needed.
  • Be innovative: A rain garden collects runoff and slowly filters it into the ground, typically absorbing 30-percent more water than a patch of lawn of equal size.

Stormwater runoff is a serious problem that has the potential to harm our water quality and wildlife, has a negative impact on recreation, and can cause economic issues for communities across Long Island. Long Islanders must be mindful of daily activities that directly contribute to stormwater pollution. Let’s not run-away from runoff!

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