Yours – Mine – Our Stormwater

By Margie Noonan and Ashley Parker

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tip-tap. Tip-tap tip-tap tip-tap…

Don’t you love those spring mornings when you get up and hear the soft rain pattering down onto the ground, watering all of the flowers and plants that are budding after a cold winter?  That sweet smell of the earth waking back up.  Looking out your window and watching ephemeral streams meander across the ground.  As a child, I used to love splashing in puddles and racing leaves down the asphalt rapids.

The spring rainy season is what jumpstarts plant growth and recharges groundwater.  It’s an important part of the water cycle.  The major issue for those of us in the DC Metro area is that we’re surrounded by concrete and asphalt, rather than soil and plants.  The Anacostia Watershed is a very urban watershed.  Seventy percent of the watershed is developed; and of that, 40% is roads.  The meandering streams you see outside your window during a rainfall are actually created by stormwater runoff that comes from the surrounding impervious surface.  You may also observe motor oil casting a colorful gloss on standing water, trash and leaves clogging inlets, and water turned brown from sediment running off the latest construction site.  When all is said and done, it turns into an unsafe atmosphere for those urban children interested in playing outdoors in the rain.

Stormwater is the rain water that hits the ground but does not get absorbed, runs off into our storm drains, and eventually into nearby streams and rivers (like the Anacostia).  On the way, it picks up pollutants such as oil, gardening chemicals, trash, animal waste, and sediment.  In the summer the stormwater also carries the heat being absorbed by the impervious surfaces during the day. During rainfall events, water sheets off roads, parking lots and driveways.  By the time it reaches our waterways, it is a strong torrent that sweeps away vegetation and erodes stream banks.  Slowly, the Metro area is losing more and more river ecosystems, and our children are losing some of their natural playgrounds.

Hope is not lost, however.  We can still give our children the chance to play in neighborhood creeks, dance in the rain, and even swim in the river.  There are proven practices, called best management practices (BMPs), which allow stormwater to soak into soil at the source before it collects pollution, flows into pipes, and then enters our streams.  Some of these practices include installing cisterns, rain barrels, green roofs, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and trees. Prince George’s County recently started a Rain Check Rebate Program to help residents install these features on their own properties.

For more information on stormwater and BMPS, check out the EPA’s Stormwater Program site.  Stay tuned to our blog as AWS embarks on several stream restoration and stormwater management projects across Prince George’s County.  By working together, all of us can make a big difference in reducing stormwater impacts across the Anacostia Watershed.

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