Catching the Rain: a Great Lakes Resource Guide to Natural Stormwater Management


Most people would agree that getting caught outside during a rainstorm is an unpleasant experience. In addition to getting soaked by the rain, one has to negotiate the many puddles and running water, or “stormwater runoff” that form during a storm. Most people would also agree that, despite the occasional discomforts, rain is an essential part of life, providing fresh water for our rivers, plants, lakes, and ultimately for us to drink. Whether we get water from a well, a river, or other sources, rainwater is critical for replenishing our drinking water supplies.

Unfortunately, stormwater runoff from developed areas is a significant cause of water pollution in the United States. Storm water runoff from residential, commercial, and industrial areas is responsible for 21 percent of the United State’s impaired lakes and 45 percent of its impaired estuaries. This is the second highest source of water pollution after agricultural runoff. The question for citizens, developers and municipalities today is how to best manage stormwater runoff. When managed properly, water is a valuable resource. However, when stormwater is managed like a waste product it exacerbates or creates flooding, and becomes contaminated with pollutants. This handbook is intended to provide a concise resource guide to more natural, or “soft path” solutions for stormwater problems. These methods are also sometimes referred to as “green infrastructure”, “soft path”, or “low impact development”.

Natural methods offer greater environmental benefits, are more visually attractive, and can in many cases, be less expensive than traditional methods of stormwater control.
Natural stormwater controls, particularly LID methods, are becoming increasingly popular in neighborhoods and cities across the country. These types of approaches cannot solve all stormwater problems, particularly in areas where large amounts of pollution and sediment are carried with stormwater runoff. In these cases conventional methods, such as detention ponds, may be more practical. But soft path methods, when applied across a site or area, can reduce many small sources of stormwater that together add up to a significant reduction in runoff volume and pollutants.

There is a great deal of information available on soft path approaches, with sources tailored to engineers, landscape professionals, municipal staff, elected officials, and homeowners. This handbook offers an easy reference to a variety of low impact development approaches suitable for the Great Lakes region. It is not meant to be a technical design tool, but rather a foundation for education and research on alternative stormwater management techniques, particularly for public works staff, developers, and citizens. This handbook provides basic information on use, space requirements, cold weather considerations, and cost are provided for each method.

Additionally, it lists a variety of sources that can provide further information on technical requirements design, supporting ordinances, and other information.