What does Stormwater Affect?

Stormwater literally affects every aspect of life on the planet, from the rivers and streams where the water drains to in many cases, to the wildlife and indigenous plants that occupy our watersheds and call them home. Everyday activities such as driving, maintaining vehicles and lawns, disposing of waste and even walking pets often cover impervious surfaces with a coating of various harmful materials. Eventually every drop of oil, sediment particle, chemical, or trash and debris that comes to land on pervious surfaces across the world will be relocated by stormwater. These pollutants of concern will ultimately come to reside in watersheds, the home of so many different plants and animals. If people are not concerned with nature, then let’s consider the impact on each taxpayer when required to pay additional taxes to operate the water or sewer treatment plants that remove these pollutants prior to the water either being distributed to citizen's homes or put back into the system.

Drinking Water - One of the most important resources is the watershed and the need for drinking water. In the United States, citizens take for granted the access to clean drinking water. As watersheds become contaminated, the cost people will need to pay for drinking water will increase. Other countries have had to deal with this problem for years. In China, large tank systems boil the water to purify it before consumption. In some of the top hotels,  guests are given bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth. Drinking the tap water is not advised, as much of it is not potable.

Natural Areas - The degradation caused by urban stormwater pollution is serious. Changes in land use that increase impervious cover lead to flooding, erosion, habitat degradation and water quality impairment. Construction sites, power plants, failed septic systems, illegal discharges and improper sewer connections all contribute substantial amounts of pollution to runoff. This pollution in turn impacts important natural resources as well as other equally important activities such as commercial and recreational fishing, swimming and boating. Urban runoff can harm aquatic life in many ways due to changes in water chemistry and habitat loss. For example, when metals and organics enter stormwater and are carried to the watershed, they are toxic to fish and other forms of aquatic life. Urban stormwater runoff is not alone in causing these impacts; industrial and agricultural runoff are contributors to water quality impairment.

Flood Control - Pollution is visible to almost everyone; however there is another aspect of stormwater that needs consideration. As the amount of impervious surfaces has increased, there has been an increase on nature’s systems. Natural waterways have formed over time to accommodate runoff. As more impervious surfaces are built, the volume of stormwater runoff being contributed to the natural waterways also increases. Water that would otherwise have percolated into the ground and eventually reached the water table is instead directed to rivers, lakes and streams that are not designed to handle this increase. The system overload leads to higher water levels and eventually to natural scour and erosion of the lake, stream and riverbanks. In many cases, the system cannot adjust, or is not designed to accommodate the extra volume, and that can result in flooded parking lots or riverbanks spilling over.