Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Returning the Rain

One of the foremost goals of this site, in addition to providing commentary on local goings on, is to try to educate people, particularly those living in Anne Arundel County and the Chesapeake region, in ways that we can act individually (and collectively) to help preserve our natural environment. As most of us know, one of the most persistent sources of pollution and sedimentation in the Bay and its estuaries is runoff from residential, commercial, and agricultural properties. It is said that, during the period prior to European colonization, when the Bay watershed was largely forested, there was almost no "runoff". Significant amounts of rainwater were absorbed by the forest canopy, and the rain that wasn't, soaked into the humus-rich forest floor, and eventually into the groundwater.

Any casual glance around Chesapeake country makes it clear that we won't be going back to the days of full forest cover any time soon, but there are steps we can take to try, at least partially, to mimic that hydrological flow once again. The first step is to reject the conventional wisdom of subdivision engineering, which was, effectively: "Convey rainwater off a site as quickly as possible, through either pipes or swales into the nearest body of water." Evidence of this dumb design is all around. Only very recently has engineering practice begun to change what was so obviously an unsustainable method of dealing with stormwater.

Now, homeowners, businesses, and farmers, are being asked to try to deal with their stormwater on site, which makes sense both environmentally and philosophically. Why should we let individual stormwater mis-management create a tragedy of the commons? As has been mentioned in previous columns, rain gardens at the bottom of downspouts are a great way both to keep a bed of native plants well watered and to help infiltrate water into the ground. Rain barrels, each of which can hold 50 gallons or more are often a good addition as well. And, if you have a driveway which needs to be replaced, consider permeable paving, which can include: Reinforced gravel paving, reinforced grass paving, interlocking concrete blocks or plastic cell networks filled with gravel or soil and grass, pervious asphalt, or pervious concrete.

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