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Environment & Science

Flooding, pollution and stream erosion: local groups provide tips to mitigate stormwater runoff

Water Authority Event Close
Jay Bradley
Penn State Extension's Brad Kunsman demonstrates the importance of water permeability on property

LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. — When rain hits the ground during a storm, where that water goes and what it affects means a lot.

That was the subject of an event on Oct. 20 focused on stormwater solutions and runoff effects at the Lehigh County Water Authority.

Lehigh County Conservation District, Lehigh County Water Authority and Penn State Extension teamed up to deliver a presentation to about two dozen community members at the Lehigh County Authority garage on what stormwater runoff does and how homeowners can make their property more environmentally friendly.

  • Local environmental management and education groups came together to inform homeowners about better stormwater management on their properties
  • Excess runoff from storms can contribute to flooding, pollution and excess erosion
  • Steps can be taken such as installing "rain gardens," having more unmowed native grasses on your property, and utilizing a rain barrel to reduce runoff on your property in case of a storm

Lehigh County Conservation District received $2,000 in grant funding from the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts to carry out such workshops for homeowners.

"[Most people] just feel like it rains and everybody thinks, ‘Oh it just goes right into the ground and it makes everything grow... Actually, it doesn't."
Laura Hopek, an environmental educator with the Lehigh County Conservation District

"[Most people] just feel like it rains and everybody thinks, ‘Oh it just goes right into the ground and it makes everything grow,’” said Laura Hopek, an environmental educator with the Lehigh County Conservation District. “Actually it doesn't. There's so much that actually runs off directly into our storm drains, which causes pollution in our drinking water.”

Brad Kunsman, a water resources educator for the Penn State Extension, was the evening's primary presenter. He walked through issues that result from runoff, such as how pavement and typical yards' high density means rainwater does not get absorbed into the ground easily and what homeowners can do about it.

Kunsman said that even though we have methods such as street drains (municipal separate storm sewer systems) that can take water away quickly, people should make sure more water is able to be absorbed on their properties.

Buildings, driveways and even dense lawns make it harder for water to be absorbed into the ground. That excess water not entering the soil after a storm can contribute to flooding, excess pollution and stream erosion due to its speed, amount and ability to carry materials from the surface.

That can affect not just streams and waterways nearby but also downstream waterways such as the Delaware River, he said.

The bulk of the presentation walked attendees through the Penn State Extension resource titled “The Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater,” which was available for attendees to read along and complete exercises.

“It's to really make folks aware of what they can do to help with municipal stormwater regulations and then how they can help their municipalities curb the effects of runoff,” Kunsman said.

Water Authority Event
Jay Bradley
Attendees were involved in the lecture and were prompted to make a plan for their own property

Primary tips involve identifying how stormwater flows on your property before figuring out what you can implement in your own yard.

The steps include:

  • Installing a “rain garden” of mulch, soil and deep-rooted native plants
  • Planting a “riparian buffer” of native trees and shrubs along stream sides
  • Planting more native grasses and having a “no-mow” area on your lawn
  • Plant more trees
  • Installing a rain barrel to catch water coming down from gutters
  • Replace walkways and driveways with more permeable surfaces, often called “pervious pavers"

The lecture served to go beyond just the informational content of the pamphlet.

To make it more personal, attendees were guided to identify the watershed in which they live and to map their property and its impervious areas such as walkways, patios and buildings. From there, after walking through the best practices and strategies for better managing stormwater runoff, attendees were asked what they would be able to, or plan to, implement.

Those interested in learning more can watch a free webinar on the Penn State Extension’s website and download the Homeowner's Guide to Stormwater.

There is also an online tool to help map your property's impact and plan what you can do to mitigate it.