‘Tis the season for landscaping, gardening and yard work, and the Allegheny County Conservation District is hoping homeowners will include storm water management in their plans for improving their outdoor spaces.
To make that task easier, the ACCD and a consortium of other organizations have put together the first ever Southwestern Pennsylvania Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater, available online and at conservation district offices.
ACCD district manager Jan Lauer said stormwater runoff can cause a multitude of problems.
“Things like flooding and pollution, as the water picks up everything from oil on the roads to dog waste in your yard,” Lauer said. “It can cause stream bank erosion when streams start flowing at higher volumes than they’re really accustomed to.”
The new guide includes information about how to assess stormwater on your property. Lauer said the first step is to figure out how much of your yard is covered with surfaces that are non-porous and do not allow water to seep into the ground.
“It’s called percentage of impermeable surface,” Lauer said. “You want to decrease the impermeable surface on your property, and how you can do that is by installing permeable pavers where the water can seep down in between the pavers instead of running off like it might on a concrete driveway.”
The roof is another major impermeable surface, but Lauer said there are ways to divert that water and even make it useful.
“At my house we’ve disconnected our gutters. In the front, it goes into a large gravel pit that we dug, to make sure the water doesn’t go into the storm sewer, but it also infiltrates and waters the yard,” Lauer said. “We have a rain barrel in the back, where we have the run the gutter such that the water seeps out through a hose and waters the gardens in the back.”
Homeowners can also create rain gardens, which are dug out areas filled with native water-loving plants.
“It fills with water and it slowly infiltrates into the yard, which helps to water your grass and trees and other plants that are there,” Lauer said. “It also holds the water for a period of time so that it doesn’t … join the other runoff from the rain.”
Lauer said, while the general public is definitely becoming more conscious of the need to manage stormwater, it is currently difficult to measure the effect of individual homeowner’s diversion efforts. She said the ACCD is currently working on collecting such data, which would help municipalities such as Pittsburgh, which have to comply with a stormwater management plan.
“If everybody put in a rain garden, there would be a noticeable difference in what is flowing into the storm system,” Lauer said. “It’s just difficult to quantify at this point.”
Partners in the creation of the new guide include the Westmoreland County Conservation District, the Westmoreland County Planning Department, Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and Penn State Extension.