One Water: Capturing Rain and Keeping It on The Land

This is the sixth article in the Greenwich Sustainability Committee’s “One Water” weekly series.

Connecticut’s changing weather often brings heavier rains and longer dry spells, straining the ability of local watersheds to recharge the groundwater that allows our streams to flow and our wells and reservoirs to fill. When rain falls on a healthy ecosystem, say a meadow or woodland, it slowly filters into and through the soil where it is purified before being stored as groundwater in aquifers. This watershed system works seamlessly as long as any water that is extracted is soon replenished, and provides us with the clean drinking water we take for granted here in the Northeast. 

It is in our best interest to understand how stormwater travels as the more we are able to capture the less we need to pump out of our aquifer. Many roof gutter systems channel water onto driveways and roadways where it flows into municipal systems ending up in Long Island Sound. Even gentle slopes may cause water to travel downhill resulting in runoff and erosion. By planting buffers along wet areas this water can be redirected, slowed and allowed to infiltrate deep into the soil. 

A rain garden can easily capture runoff from a roof, roadway or slope. They are beautiful additions to both private and public properties and just need a shallow depression and appropriate sun or shade loving plants.

Native plants are recommended as they require less care and support local and migratory birds and the pollinating insects they depend upon.

A simple design can bring out-sized color and dimension and UCONN has a rain garden app that provides designs, plant recommendations and installation video instructions.  

Towns can greatly reduce water loss and pollution with well designed drainage systems that monitor and manage flows. Storms that cause flooding often produce undetected overflows that allow unfiltered water, and even raw sewage, to travel into local waterways. A comprehensive maintenance program with regular inspections can mitigate and prevent such situations. Additionally, towns can install bioswales, gently sloped vegetated troughs designed to capture debris and pollutants from stormwater, along streets and in parking lots to effectively capture substantial amounts of automotive pollution. Bioswales add beauty and are a valuable tool in keeping our watershed clean.

With a little thought and effort we can all enjoy the many benefits of capturing rainfall from our hardscapes. Our driveways, patios and walkways can be made permeable. Our gardens can include native plantings to hold more water than turf grass, which often is overwatered and where water tends to evaporate into the air rather than filter into the soil. Our downspouts can be fitted with rain barrels to water everything from flower pots to community gardens and a cistern system might store enough water for an entire property. 

With a better understanding of the many benefits of capturing rainfall to keep it on the land we can make a valuable contribution to the health and wellbeing of the ecosystem we call home. Let’s make our waterways cleaner and not let so much of our rainfall wash away.

Next in the One Water Series:  “Climate Impacts on Water Resources.”

See also:

One Water: Water Doesn’t Fall from the Sky, It Comes from the Soil

April 16, 2021

The Lowdown on Runoff: Keep Water Clean

April 13, 2021

Water in Greenwich – Too Much? Too Little?

April 5, 2021

Our Changing Connecticut Climate: A Water Story

March 29, 2021

One Water. Shared: Greenwich Within the Long Island Sound Watershed

March 21, 2021