Last week, I described my own experiences with stormwater management and the use of green infrastructure as a solution. This week I will highlight some ways that most property owners can design in, preserve or retrofit the features that will naturally control pollution and help to prevent excessive runoff from overwhelming public storm drains, streams, wetlands and water bodies.
Much like the imbalance of too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, our environment cannot catch up with the rate at which carbon sequestering soils, trees and plants are being destroyed or compromised. For example, healthy soil is roughly made up of 25 percent water, 25 percent air, 45 percent mineral particles and 5 percent organic matter. Therefore, up to 50 percent of soil’s ability to hold water goes away when compacted by heavy equipment, cars, lawn tractors, pools, sheds, hardscaping, driveways, parking lots etc. When chemicals are added in, the soil is further degraded as the biological and botanical health is compromised; unable to maintain soil porosity, mineral and organic matter processing, and the “fixing” of carbon from the atmosphere into the natural “carbon sink”. Similarly, removing trees without replacing them onsite is a serious blow to stormwater management. Trees hold hundreds of gallons of water on their leaves and woody exteriors during storm events, while softening the blow of storm power. Their former leaves, if left to decay beneath, hold and slowly release water into the ground below. The roots draw up many times more water than the tree’s functions need, in order to transpire moisture back into the atmosphere as part of the natural cycle; the harmony of earth and atmosphere.
When soil is scraped away for new construction or alterations, soil health may never recover from loss of structure, or tilth. Plopping down sod, to be irrigated unnaturally and chemically kept alive, is not very helpful in a true green, sustainable infrastructure. Nor does it bode well for the health of native plants and their companion birds, butterflies and co-evolved beneficial insects.
As you take your walk in the rain, check out the water that comes out of gutters and downspouts, down sidewalks and driveways, puddling in ruts and low spots; and how it enters the public domain beyond your property, dragging along topsoil, oils, silt, leaves, grass clippings, and whatever else may be carried or dissolved within.
Some towns have combined sewerage and stormwater infrastructure, a nightmare scenario when heavy rains or general flooding occur, sending raw sewage into our waterways. That, plus septic system failures, land subsidence, sea level rise, wetlands loss, coastal over- building, silting of estuaries and bays, and lack of dune vegetation make any worsening of the problem very unwelcome. On the flip side, converting property to a place where stormwater is returned to the aquifer beneath through swales, rain gardens, contouring, berming and diversion using piping, barrels and tanks is very much appreciated and helpful. Living green roofs and walls, flower and vegetable beds, meadows of any size, less expansive but more effective lawns; are all very possible.
This may all sound so trivial, due to the numbing status quo of landscaping, non-native plants, pesticide and herbicide usage, and the standard property layout that makes stormwater someone else’s problem right on down the road. Well, it’s far from trivial, so come out of the rain and start planning. Check in with your local Environmental Commission, Planning Board, Office of Sustainability and the South Jersey Chapter of the New Jersey Native Plant Society, NJDEP, etc. for more information.