I love a good rainstorm — I always have. My mother used to check the weather forecast for thunderstorms because I was fascinated by them and wanted to watch them outside. However, it’s not really a good idea to sit outside during a thunderstorm.
Rain brings so many good things to our lives. It cleans the air, makes plants thrive and cools the air in the summertime. It enhances our lives in so many ways, but when it comes to stormwater, rain takes on a darker personality.
“Stormwater is water from precipitation that flows across the ground and pavement when it rains or when snow and ice melt,” according to the Department of Environmental Protection’s “When It Rains, It Drains” brochure.
“The water seeps into the ground or drains into what we call storm sewers. These are the drains you see at street corners or at low points on the sides of streets. Collectively, the draining water is called stormwater runoff.”
Stormwater is like good rain gone wild. Stormwater’s dark side is revealed when it picks up debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants as it flows over pervious surfaces, like sidewalks, roads and concrete driveways.
Stormwater’s bad side also can cause flooding and erosion of stream banks, which creates significant problems in our waterways. After a storm, stormwater travels through a system of drains and roadside ditches. It eventually flows directly into local creeks and rivers and can eventually end up at sea. All of the pollutants that stormwater carries along the way empty into our waters, too. These pollutants wreak havoc in our waters.
Here are a few thought-provoking facts about this good rain gone wild. We are the reason that stormwater causes problems. Rain is not really bad until it hooks up with the debris and litter that we let accumulate.
• The behavior of individuals — and the consequent choices we make each day — contribute more to water pollution than the activities of business, industry and large public enterprise. We really are the source of stormwater pollution. We need to be the solution to this water pollution.
• Polluted runoff is the nation’s greatest threat to having clean and safe water.
• Although 80 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, only 3 percent of that is fresh water and only 1 percent is suitable for drinking water.
We need to treat water as the precious commodity that it is. Water issues affect all of us — no matter who we are or where we live.
• A typical city block generates more than five times more runoff than a wooded area of the same size. We have to blame the abundance of those pervious surfaces for that.
• One gallon of oil can contaminate up to 1 million gallons of water.
• Using a commercial carwash actually can reduce stormwater runoff pollution.
• The overuse of lawn fertilizers can contribute to excessive plant growth in lakes and streams. These fertilizers can cause excessive algae growth and oxygen depletion.
• According to the EPA, the No. 1 pollutant of our waterways is sediment.
• It is estimated that 4 billion tons of sediment are eroded annually from construction sites into U.S. waterways.
• Sediment also accumulates from homes and agricultural sites.
• Soil and silt in the water increase water temperature and murkiness, which harms fish and their food supply.
• Decaying leaves and organic materials in storm drains increase bacteria and mosquito production and decrease oxygen essential for fish life.
• Although wastewater is cleaned and treated before it goes into waterways, stormwater runoff flows through storm drains and into local waterways untreated.
• The three largest sources of storm water pollution are herbicides and pesticides from agriculture and lawns, urban runoff and sediment from construction sites.
So, the next time it looks like rain, remember: We can keep these bad elements — litter, debris, motor oil, sediment — out of our rainwater. We can make better choices every day.
Help rain be the lovely force of nature that it is by making sure that the only thing traveling down storm drains is rainwater.
Sara Swida is director of Keep Liberty Beautiful.