Managing runoff In communities across the country, private homeowners must manage stormwater runoff from their properties. Don’t wait for local ordinances to demand compliance. Start your own stormwater runoff mitigation efforts with simple fixes that don’t cost a bundle.

What is stormwater runoff?

It’s any natural precipitation that doesn’t soak into the ground where it falls. When rain hits the hard, impervious surfaces associated with modern life – driveways, sidewalks, streets, rooftops, parking lots –it’s channeled toward stormwater drainage systems. In many communities, these drainage systems empty into natural waterways.

Why is stormwater runoff a problem?

  • Large volumes can overwhelm storm drains and cause localized flooding.
  • Runoff gathers sediment and pollutants, which can wind up in natural waterways.
  • Water that doesn’t soak into soil can’t recharge local groundwater sources.

The goal of managing stormwater runoff includes:

  • Decreasing the volume
  • Minimizing the pollutants

The EPA mantra for stormwater runoff management is: Slow it down, spread it out, soak it in. Consider these affordable, do-able solutions to do just that.

1. Add plants. Incorporate plantings, especially in areas where runoff collects. As runoff soaks into soil, plant roots help to absorb and filter out pollutants. When runoff soaks into and percolates through soil, the soil also acts as a filter, removing some pollutants.

2. Protect trees. Like other plant roots, tree roots help absorb and filter runoff. Tree canopies also slow rainfall and spread it over a larger area.

3. Break up slabs. Replace concrete patio slabs with pavers, flagstones, or bricks that allow water to soak in between items. For driveways, consider using turf block or leaving a strip of grass up the center.

4. Go permeable. Choose a permeable material for a path, patio, or driveway. Less expensive options include aggregate base, gravel, mulch, or crushed shells. Pricier options include pervious concrete or asphalt.

5. Catch runoff. Install a rain barrel or cistern to catch stormwater runoff from roofs. Use this water to irrigate garden plants.

6. Dig a trench. Use a shallow, gravel-filled trench to catch and slow runoff, especially at the base of a slope or alongside a driveway or patio. For slopes, consider creating a dry creek to catch, slow down and direct runoff, perhaps to a rain garden (see below).

7. Plant a rain garden. A rain garden is designed to catch and slow runoff. It’s frequently planted in low areas, at the base of a slope, or near downspout outlets. The design includes soil layers, mulch, and plants, all of which filter rainwater as it seeps into soil. Check with your local cooperative extension agency to learn rain garden basics.

8. Cover soil. Depending on the type, bare soil can be like concrete in terms of its ability to absorb water. Cover bare soil with mulch or a ground cover to slow stormwater runoff.

9. Swap lawn. Trade turf for native plants, which are adapted to local growing conditions and require fewer inputs (once established) than turf.

10. Drive on the grass. If your driveway isn’t permeable, wash your car on the lawn so water can soak into soil, instead of running into the street.

Final Advice

No matter what method you choose, always direct runoff away from your home’s foundation. If your property has a steep slope or receives additional runoff from an external source, consult with a professional landscaper to discuss possible solutions.