Urban Storm Water
When it rains, it pours. It pours dirt, metals, bacteria, road salt, fertilizers, and other pollutants right into our wetlands, creeks, and lakes where fish and small animals feed and live. Not into a treatment plant to get cleaned up before it ends up in the local waterways; instead, the rain washes the pollutants off these hard surfaces causing flooding and habitat and public health and safety problems. Water works its way downhill in every watershed. Even if there is not a waterway on your block, you’d be surprised at how far water can flow through storm pipes and roadside ditches to reach the nearest creek or wetland.
Too much dirt, or suspended sediment, can reduce the water clarity and fill in streambeds. Filling in the undercut banks or the deeper pockets on the river bed reduces the number of places fish can go for protection from predators or to find cool, shady spots on warm days. Fish that need this type of habitat will not remain in stretches of the river where these features disappear.
Too much phosphorus, nitrogen or other nutrients in the water column can react with warmer water temperatures and sunlight to create algae blooms, which can be harmful to people and other animals using the water. Blue-green algae is a particular concern, as it can release toxins that are harmful if swallowed. Excess amounts of phosphorus and other nutrients can also cause substantial increases in the amount of weeds growing in a lake or along a river, which can make it difficult to enjoy swimming, fishing or kayaking, boating and other activities we want to share with our friends and families. Areas with too many weeds floating near the top of the water can collect garbage or debris, and can slow down the flow of water, making a stagnant area that is undesirable to fish and small animals.
Community Approaches to Improving Water Quality
The cities, villages, towns, and counties in the Oconomowoc River Watershed are developing plans to assess the current amount of pollutants on the lands within the municipality, and developing strategies to prevent these pollutants from being carried into the lakes, rivers, and wetlands via the storm sewer systems when it rains or when the snow melts. The City of Oconomowoc completed a storm water quality master plan in 2015 which included the following recommendations:
Increase Street Sweeping Activities
Street sweepers pick up garbage and debris from the curb side along with fine particles of sediment that carries other nutrients, metals, and pollutants attached to the particles. Increasing the number of times the street sweepers operate on the streets will increase the amount of pollutants captured between rain events.
Construct New Storm Water Ponds
Storm water ponds are designed to receive dirty storm water and hold it for a time in the pond to allow dirt and particles to fall to the bottom of the pond. This leaves the cleaner water at the top of the pond, where an outfall near the top will allow the cleaner water to flow out and ultimately end in the creeks, lakes, and wetlands in the area.
Install Permeable Pavement
Permeable pavement or pavers allows water to soak into the streets, roads, and sidewalks to a layer of soil that is designed to filter pollutants before the water soaks further into the ground. Some permeable pavement systems have an underdrain pipe to carry the water out to the larger storm sewer pipe or to a waterway. Permeable pavement systems can be included in road reconstruction or parking lot redevelopment projects in strategic ares such as recessed parking islands, parking lanes along roads, across driveways, and more to minimize the amount of water and pollutants flowing downstream.
Reduce the Width of Local Roads
Solutions to storm water runoff are aimed at hard surfaces where rain falls and picks up pollutants that have accumulated there. Allowing rain to soak into the ground reduces the amount of water flowing across paved ares. One solutions is to evaluate the width of local streets to determine if the paved surface can be reduced to allow more rain to soak into grass parkways and terraces. This can be accomplished during road reconstruction or during the development and redevelopment of properties.
Maintenance of Storm Water Practices
The goal of storm water practices is to capture sediment, nutrients, metals, and other pollutants before they reach the local waterways. The collected material needs to be removed and cleaned out for the storm water practices to function appropriately and last. Examples of routine maintenance include: removing accumulated sediment, weeding or thinning vegetation over time, and sweeping permeable pavement to remove particles. Routine inspections of the storm water practices help determine when cleaning or maintenance is needed.
Every Day Approaches to Improving Water Quality
Materials such as old fertilizers, oil-based paints, auto repair fluids, or other household hazardous items should be disposed of at your local municipal collection site. You should never pour anything onto the ground to soak in or dump anything down the storm sewer.
If fertilizers are needed on your lawn, use phosphorus-free fertilizers - look for a "0" in the middle number on the fertilizer bag. This is the amount of phosphorus in the fertilizer, and most of our lawns need the other nutrients, not the phosphorus, to be lush and green. Ask your lawn care professional to use phosphorus-free fertilizers when they work on your lawn.
Pick up after dogs and pets. High concentration of "fertilizer" can be found in high pet-traffic areas, which contributes to algae blooms and excess weed growth downstream. Throwing pet droppings into the garbage can prevents this from getting into the lakes and streams.
Utilizing Rain Water
Installing a rain barrel or rain garden in your yard can help deter excess storm water while simultaneously lowering your water use (and bills). Capturing the rain from your rooftop means less water to wash pollutants off the ground and into the storm sewers. Rain barrels hold rain water until you are ready to use it on gardens and lawns. Rain gardens can capture the water and allow it to soak in, preventing it from reaching the storm sewer or roadside swales. This means lower amounts of rain water flowing into the streams and wetlands, where the sheer amount of water can wash out river bank and the bottom of riverbeds and the wetlands, carrying dirt and debris downstream.
Leaves, weeds, and grass clippings all release phosphorus and other nutrients when they decompose. If they die off and decompose in or close to the lake, they release phosphorus that feeds the remaining plants and algae. Composting leaves and aquatic leaves provides a source of nutrient-rich soil to use in future flower beds and gardens while reducing the amount of phosphorus available for the weed and algae growth and die-off cycle.