Catching the Rain: a Southeast Resource Guide to Natural Stormwater Management

Introduction  

If this book is your first glimpse of green stormwater management, or just stormwater in general, you’re about to learn how to better utilize one of the most important resources on the planet – freshwater. Getting stuck in the rain and negotiating puddles isn’t a pleasant experience. But it’s important to stop and think about what a miracle it is that freshwater – an essential part of life – just falls from the sky. It’s also critical that we not take this gift of nature for granted, although sadly we often do. When you’re in a city, town or suburb when it rains, look around, and you will see thousands of gallons of freshwater fall to the ground, soak up dirt, gasoline and other pollutants, and then funnel straight into a drain that shunts it to the nearest stream.

Most people would agree that, despite the occasional discomforts, rain is an essential part of life, providing freshwater 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. So why do we waste so much of it?

Not only are we wasting a valuable resource, we are turning it into a pollutant. Stormwater runoff from developed areas is a significant cause of water pollution in the United States. Stormwater runoff from residential, commercial, and industrial areas is responsible for 21 percent of the country’s impaired lakes and 45 percent of its impaired estuaries. This is the second highest source of water pollution after agricultural runoff.

When managed properly, stormwater runoff 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” or “low impact  development.”

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