Keeping our Drinking Water Clean
What is stormwater runoff?
Stormwater is water from rain that flows off solid surfaces, gathering from puddles to ditches, streams, and eventually flowing into our lakes and rivers. Along the way, stormwater picks up pollutants – including automobile fluids, pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, pet waste and litter, to name a few. As a result, excess algae, sediment, and toxic chemicals end up in the the rivers and lakes that supply our drinking water, making the water unfit for consumption. New development increases stormwater runoff by adding more sidewalks, streets, bare soil and rooftops to our communities, and contributing to water quality degradation as higher-velocity runoff erodes stream banks faster. Not only are we drinking and swimming in stormwater runoff, but we pay the price of additional chemicals and treatments necessary to make our water safe to drink.
To protect existing and future drinking water supplies, municipalities and counties must enact stricter stormwater regulations, create incentives to capture and reuse stormwater, and increase land conservation and stream restoration. Some of the most promising opportunities include Low-Impact Development (LID)/Green Infrastructure (GI), rainwater capture and reuse through cisterns and other stormwater storage devices, rain gardens, permeable pavers that allow water to soak into the ground, and using soil and vegetation to manage and treat rainwater naturally. While personal actions, like the installation of rain gardens and rainwater capture systems in individual homes, can help solve our water problems, you can have an even greater impact by advocating for policy changes that require Wake County and its municipalities to improve stormwater management.
“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do to you.”
– Wendell Berry
Low-Impact Development (LID)/Green Infrastructure (GI) is a land use planning and design approach that helps limit environmental degradation from growth and development. Integrating stormwater practices into site design and implementing on-site features to reduce stormwater runoff and increase ground water recharge, LID/GI ensures that development happens with an eye toward protecting water quality and environmental integrity. North Carolina State University initiated the NC LID Group, a clearinghouse of information on the principles of low impact development to improve understanding, and ultimately implementation, of LID projects. The Low Impact Development Guidebook for North Carolina is also a great resource for LID information.
Low impact development/green infrastructure encompasses the concepts and tools that could be key to cleaning up Falls Lake and Jordan Lake, Wake County’s drinking water reservoirs. Reducing stormwater pollution improves water quality; using stormwater for irrigation and other non-potable purposes extends our limited groundwater supply; increasing infiltration of stormwater enlarges our water supply. With appropriate stormwater management and land development practices, stormwater can be an asset rather than a liability.