Rain is a euphoric natural occurrence. Homeowners often install tin roofs, sheltered sunrooms, and skylights to maximize the calming effects of rainfall. Unfortunately, this tranquil weather pattern can negatively impact the global ecosystem if the built environment isn’t prepared for it.
As precipitation increases in the atmosphere, Earth’s surface experiences a rise in stormwater runoff. As rain and snowmelt travel along streets, roofs, and fields to reach a drain, it collects debris. The excess material then finds its way into essential bodies of water, introducing multiple types of environmental degradation.
Environmental Effects of Stormwater Runoff
Stormwater effectively cleans up city streets and residential sidewalks by scooping up pollutants like oil, synthetic chemicals, and various solids on its way to a natural or artificial drain. The contaminated fluid fills reservoirs, rivers, and the ocean. As polluted discharge reaches essential water sources, it poses harmful effects.
As stormwater feeds into rivers, it creates algal blooms. Algae is an essential part of aquatic ecosystems in specific doses. When overproduced, fisheries can suffocate and river species may die off.
This effect is known as eutrophication. An increase in photosynthesizing elements, typically artificial fertilizers from residential lawns and commercial agriculture, destroys these ecosystems. Eutrophication also impacts marine life.
Dead zones are uninhabitable regions of the ocean that endanger marine life. As stormwater runoff reaches the sea, fertilizers, and pesticides fuel the growth of algae and zooplankton. When these minuscule sea creatures consume the polluted runoff, their feces deplete the water’s oxygen.
As runoff continues to pollute the ocean and rivers, biodiversity becomes limited. Aquatic ecosystem destruction affects the conservation of the seafood we consume and harms our drinking water.
A significant driving factor of stormwater runoff is climate change. For every degree Fahrenheit that our environment warms, 4% of global water absorbs into the atmosphere. An increase in atmospheric water vapors causes a rise in annual rainfall and snowfall.
Sustainable Solutions for Stormwater Runoff Problems
Fortunately, there are ways to manage stormwater runoff to avoid environmental degradation sustainably. Appropriately directing, collecting, and utilizing excess water can conserve aquatic ecosystems and the atmosphere. There are five essential methods to reducing the harmful effects of runoff.
1. Proper paving practices
Part of the increase in stormwater runoff derives from inadequate road and driveway paving techniques. You can incorporate a gradual slope in paved portions of your property to direct runoff from agricultural regions using pesticides and toxic fertilizers.
You can also build a catch basin beneath your driveway or road to properly dispose of weather discharge. This is an underground system that feeds water into a pooling region where it can be filtered elsewhere. Most commonly, homeowners direct collection basins to their gardens.
2. Rain garden
A rain garden is a depressed region in the landscape that utilizes stormwater for growth. The structure catches and uses excess water before it reaches rivers or the ocean.
These gardens can filter air pollutants and provide an adequate habitat for insects, birds, and more. They are also the most sustainable form of gardening, requiring little to no human interference. Utilizing the stormwater runoff for watering also helps homeowners and municipalities save more on their utility bills.
3. Rainwater harvesting system
Another method of recycling stormwater to reduce environmental degradation is harvesting rainwater for residential use. The system collects stormwater in a tank and either utilizes it as-is or purifies it for consumption.
Homeowners may push nonpotable water into toilets, lawn sprinklers, or laundry machines. They can use the purified stormwater for showering, drinking, and more. Rainwater harvesting systems significantly reduce the amount of runoff that reaches rivers and the ocean.
4. Green roofs
In urban settings, it may be difficult to collect or redirect the stormwater runoff. To actively limit the degrading impact of weather discharge, one can build a rooftop garden.
These green roofs absorb rainwater rather than filtering it off the tops of buildings into streets. The rooftop structures conserve aquatic ecosystems, filter pollution, and remove heat from the air.
These gardens perform evapotranspiration, which is the process of absorbing water, cooling it, and releasing it back into the atmosphere. Not only does this system remove pollutants from the air, but it also works to cool the environment. Challenging climate change is a vital method to limiting the degrading impacts of runoff.
5. Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions
To reduce the amount of intense precipitation, we must limit the rise of global temperatures. There are various actions humanity can take to reduce the number of air pollutants in the atmosphere.
Renewable energy utilizes non-depletable natural resources to produce power. One can convert sun and wind power to electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You can also engage in alternate forms of transportation to limit the fossil fuels you burn through driving.
Methane is another gas that contributes to the warming of the environment. Cattle directly release this element, which the U.S. currently mass-produces. Reducing your consumption of meat, especially beef, can limit methane emissions.
Finally, planting more trees can reduce atmospheric precipitation by filtering greenhouse gases before they ascend from the surface. This is a popular method of limiting environmental degradation by corporations, called carbon offsetting. Trees may reduce the number of air pollutants in the environment and lessen precipitation increasing effects.
How Water Management Helps the Planet
Homeowners, business owners, and towns and cities all have actions they can take to ameliorate the problem of excessive and harmful stormwater runoff. From reducing impermeable surfaces, like parking lots, to redirecting rainfall for use elsewhere, there’s plenty to do at the individual and local level.
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