Episode 1: Rain
A month in, and I’m already coming to realize that I know a lot less than I thought…
Welcome to Eco Chats with Matt or Something like That. My name’s Matt Spackman, and I’m the newest member of the Eco Superior team. As a newbie, I’m coming to realize that, despite my best efforts over the years, I know much less about our environmental impact
and our role as environmental stewards than I had hoped. I’ve decided to start posting on our company blog about all of the new and interesting information I’m gleaning with regards to environmental awareness; I’m learning all sorts of new information about things like composting, community cleanup, invasive species and chemical by-products in our consumer goods. However, because of the big rain barrel sale we’ve been running recently, the main focus of the organization lately has been on rain barrels, and their contribution to storm water management. Storm water is an issue with which I had only a passing familiarity before starting here, but in the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a crash course on the importance of managing runoff properly.
Rain; it’s ubiquitous to almost all areas of the globe, and seen as both a blessing and a curse, depending on where you are and who you ask. However, the role of rain water in the world is starting to shift as climate change and urban development become more pressing and pervasive issues. Cities are especially susceptible to damage from rain water. Inadequate storm drainage infrastructure can increase pollutants in local waterways, precipitate millions of dollars in property damage, cause erosion of lakes and rivers, and increase surface water temperature in waterways creating inhospitable conditions for sensitive aquatic life.
When it rains, the water washes along all of our roadways, parking lots, roofs, lawns, vehicles, etc. As it does, it collects all sorts of gross things. If you see oil or other fluids that have leaked from a car onto a road or driveway, those chemicals are swept up by the water. If you have loose shingles or other detritus on your roof, it is collected by the rain. All of the cigarette butts, dirty tissues, fast food waste, and other litter on the streets are picked up by storm runoff. Any pesticides, herbicides or animal feces on lawns and parklands are swept up as well. All of these contaminants travel with the storm water as it flows towards storm sewers, and they all end up in the same place; our lakes and rivers. Traditionally, most cities didn’t treat their storm water, or treated it insufficiently, meaning that most of the water that flowed into the storm sewers ended up getting dumped into local waterways, along with all of the pollutants that were along for the ride. In addition, some older areas of urban centres have combined storm sewer and sanitary sewer systems. As a result, sanitary sewers can get backed up during periods of heavy rainfall, flooding basements and waterways with raw sewage, causing millions of dollars in property damage and big risks to human and environmental health.
The property damage is obvious. Flooding can result in damage to walls, flooring, roofing, personal effects, and even the foundation of houses. The environmental damage, however, can be more insidious. As rivers and streams fill up with all of this runoff, there can be a significant increase in soil erosion, as well as an increase in surface water temperature. As soil erodes and degrades, it can cause a shift in sediment levels along the effected waterways. Combined with the increase in temperature, local aquatic ecosystems become inhospitable to the aquatic life of the region. Aquatic life often needs very specific conditions in which to thrive, and even slight changes to its environment can cause enormous damage to these populations.
Luckily, people and governments everywhere are becoming much more aware of the issues surrounding storm water management. As this awareness grows, so too do opportunities for upgrading infrastructure in a meaningful way. The new horizon for stormwater management is managing rain where it falls through green infrastructure. In nature, rain gets absorbed directly into the ground, preventing runoff and its associated problems.
Similarly, new techniques in managing rain water involve supplementing “grey” infrastructure like storm sewers with green alternatives, including rain gardens, permeable paving, bioswales, urban forests, green roofs, infiltration galleries, rain barrels and cisterns. These techniques are geared towards eliminating runoff and easing pressure on traditional infrastructure.
Locally, the City of Thunder Bay is working on a 20-year action plan to revamp its storm water management infrastructure. For a look at what will be included, click here. They also have recommendations for residents that can help to mitigate some of the effects of storm runoff:
- Plant a rain garden
- Install a rain barrel or two
- Dispose of hazardous waste at the City’s Household Hazardous Waste Depot
- Do not wash automotive fluids into the storm sewer
- Pick up after your pets
- Clean up litter
- Avoid the use of chemical fertilizers
How We can Help
As to how storm drainage and rain water relate to EcoSuperior, there are a few initiatives we offer to help you become part of the solution to our stormwater woes. We currently have the City of Thunder Bay Residential Drainage Rebate Program, the City of Thunder Bay Rain Garden Rebate program, and we retail recycled rain barrels at a great price.
The Drainage Rebate Program is a program that homeowners can take advantage of when upgrading their home’s drainage infrastructure. City residents can apply for a rebate that covers a significant portion of project costs when adding a sump pump or a sewer back water valve. For more information, including eligibility and rebate allotments, visit http://www.ecosuperior.org/drainage.
The second initiative, the Rain Garden Rebate, is in place to incentivize the construction of rain gardens throughout the city. We offer workshops on the best ways to design and install your garden, along with information on getting money back for the project. We also offer booklets with this information at our office, which can be purchased for $5. You can find more details at http://www.ecosuperior.org/article/rain-garden-rebate-program-154.asp.
Finally, we have our rain barrels. Rain barrels are a cheap and easy way to help manage storm water runoff. They collect rain water from the eaves trough, storing it to be used around the house for watering gardens or lawns. Rain barrels help reduce your overall water usage, not to mention shrinking your water bill. They also prevent runoff from your roof from joining with the rest of the storm water as it sweeps pollutants from our yards and roadways into neighbouring bodies of water, helping to mitigate some of the environmental impact caused by urban storm runoff. EcoSuperior offers rain barrels for $65, providing you with free garden water for the summer.
I hope that this post has been informative, and if you have any questions, comments or concerns, you can send us a message via our website http://www.ecosuperior.org/article/contact-us-19.asp.
Thanks, and Stay Green