When the amount of rain falling exceeds the land's ability to absorb it, the result is stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff collects when water from rain or snowmelt comes into contact with an impervious or semi-impervious surface like a driveway, rooftop, parking lot, gravel road, or area of compacted soil. These surfaces prevent water from naturally soaking into the ground. As a result, the water moves across the landscape, collecting sediment, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), bacteria from animal waste, oil, grease, heavy metals from cars, and other pollutants along the way.
Next, this pollutant rich water either flows into a municipal stormwater system or directly into a waterway, such as a lake, stream, river, or wetland. Regardless, the result is the same, as anything that enters the stormwater system is discharged untreated into the waterways we use for swimming, fishing and drinking water.
Stormwater moves quickly across paved surfaces, picking up debris, chemicals, bacteria and sediment, and dumping them into rivers and lakes.
Large amounts of stormwater runoff can have negative effects on plants, animals, fish and people because pollution degrades the health of the environment and the bodies of living things.
You and your neighbors can reduce this impact by planting more native trees, shrubs, and grasses to slow and absorb excess runoff.
impervious surface runoff
Video courtesy Northwest Access TV / Paul Snyder.
Vermont experiences a significant amount of flooding throughout the year from rainstorms and snow-melt events.
Major floods cause lasting damage and can destroy bridges, roads, homes, farmland, and livelihoods.
In order to keep our communities safe from flood damage, it is important to protect wetlands and floodplains that are able to absorb a large amount of water and to protect human infrastructure (such as hospitals and schools).
river flooding over banks
Video Courtesy of Armand Messier, northernvermontaerial.com
Fast moving stormwater and floods can cause erosion of land, which pulls plants and sediment from stream banks and hillsides into waterways.
Phosphorus binds to soil particles, so when erosion occurs (regardless of if it is on a lawn, farm field, or forest floor) nutrients are washed downstream with stormwater runoff.
Since traditional lawns are non-native, they do little to prevent erosion. Native trees, shrubs, and grasses have more extensive and adapted root systems which can protect your property from erosion, even if you do not live on a hillside.
Planting native buffers is a great way to mitigate stormwater impacts because native vegetation stabilizes soil and slows down stormwater runoff.
Photo courtesy Amanda Holland.
HUMAN & ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Everything that we as humans put into our environment, whether it is chloride in the form of road salt, phosphorus as fertilizer, or human and animal waste, will end up impacting us again in some form, whether it is through our drinking water, food, land, or air.
It is important to consider that there is no "away" when it comes to our waste. Everything we use and discard of in our communities has an environmental and human impact.
Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae live in both fresh and salt water and are able to create their own food from sunlight.
Cyanobacteria blooms have intense impacts on aquatic plants and animals, and can create dead zones in lakes and ponds that can lead to fish kills.
Pets are also particularly vulnerable since they have a higher chance of drinking directly from contaminated water.
Cyanobacteria raise the costs to treat drinking water, and can effect tourism and property values.
Photo courtesy Lisa Borre.
Phosphorus is found in fertilizers, manure, human and pet waste, soils, and on streets, which means that a large amount of it ends up in stormwater runoff.
Phosphorus is thought to be the “limiting” nutrient in the creation of cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Champlain, meaning that when phosphorus is present, cyanobacteria can grow more easily.
When phosphorus is washed into waterways by storm drains or shorelines, it causes algae and aquatic plants to choke out other native species.
Photo courtesy Julie Moore.
E. coli is a bacteria that is found in the intestines of humans and animals.
It can end up in local waterbodies from agricultural runoff, wastewater treatment plants, inadequate management of pet waste, and from other animal species.
E. coli is capable of causing health problems for those who inadvertently swallow it in water while swimming or recreating.
When high levels of the bacteria are detected in waterbodies, beaches are closed to swimming and recreating until further notice.