Preventing Water Pollution – Easier Than You Think

Homeowners these days have endless ways to manage stormwater runoff – raingardens, rain barrels, dry wells, native plants, and more! But hold on, what if you’re not a professional landscaper? Not to worry! Capturing and treating runoff has a very simple solution – redirect your downspout!

Think of your downspouts as tiny storm sewer pipes. They transport rainwater that lands on your roof down onto whatever surface it is being directed to. However, where this water ends up makes a big difference for our environment.

Stormdrains provide a direct connection between urban runoff and surface waters.

When the water lands on a hard surface, it will pick up various pollutants along its way since it cannot soak into the ground. This polluted runoff flows into the nearest storm drain, which means it will go directly to the nearest wetland, lake, or river. Common pollutants found in this runoff include phosphorus, heavy metals, chloride, nitrogen, trash, and even fecal bacteria.

In order to avoid this, the easiest thing a homeowner can do is to redirect their downspout to a place where the water will be able to soak into the ground. You will need two things; a downspout extension and a good spot for the water to soak in. That’s it, those two things and you will have completed your part to prevent water pollution!

First things first, make sure you are protecting the foundation of your home and your landscape with the following tips in mind.

A quick review – the basics

An average sized home with a 1,500-square-foot roof can generate 31,000 gallons of stormwater runoff per year.

Our homes have gutters and downspouts for a reason – to direct rainfall and snow away from the foundation of the house. Besides protecting your basement from flooding or any other water damage, they also protect your landscape from being eroded by constant water dripping.

To put the amount of runoff these gutters and downspouts handle into perspective, think of an average moderately sized home with an 1,500 square-foot roof. For every 1-inch rain event, this roof will generate approximately 1,000 gallons of runoff. To put this on a larger scale, Minneapolis gets nearly 31-inches of average annual precipitation, meaning this single home is capable of producing up to 31,000 gallons of stormwater runoff each year.

Your objective, as a water pollution combatant, is to soak as much of that runoff into the ground as possible. Not only will your soil filter out pollutants and prevent them from entering the storm drains, but other vegetation in the area will benefit from the extra water.

Finding a good spot

Downspouts positioned onto walkways will not allow the stormwater runoff to soak in.

By now it should be obvious to you that stormwater does not soak into hard surfaces like your driveway or pavement. However, it is important to know that this runoff can’t soak into compacted soils or those with a high clay content either. As a result, it is critical to figure out whether you have a good spot in your yard for soaking up stormwater.

For example, are there any spots where water pools during a rain event? Where does the water currently flow after it leaves your downspouts? Can you see runoff flowing off your property into the street? After you have taken note of what happens on your property when it rains, it is time to experiment. You will want to factor in things such as walkways and landscaping, or any areas where there is hard pavement. Look for a place that water could easily infiltrate, such as a grassy or vegetated spot. Additionally, make sure a downspout extension won’t cause any issues with any sort of traffic in your yard. Now it’s time to head to your local hardware store!

An example of a downspout extension aimed at a grassy area where runoff will be able to soak in.

When it comes to downspout extensions, there is a wide variety to choose from. For the most part, they are easy to install and self explanatory. In terms of materials, plastic extensions are a nice option because they’re flexible and do not require any extra hardware. However, they may not be as durable as some of the alternatives. Perhaps metal is more your style in which you can read directions on how to install one here.

If you’re not sure how well your landscape will soak up the water, you may want to consider conducting an infiltration test. Requiring no special equipment, this test can be performed at your very own home. You can find detailed instructions online, as well as complete how-to-videos like this one. Another option would be to perform a mason jar soil test which will help you determine the content of your soil.

It is also important to avoid sending your redirected runoff near the foundation of your house. Some common sense will go a long way toward keeping your house safe from water intrusion, but if you still have questions, you can always contact one of your local Master Water Stewards to help you out.

That was a lot of information for such a basic concept, but remember that this is the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to managing stormwater runoff in a responsible and eco-friendly way. Want to take the next step? Contact us to learn how to combine your downspout redirection with other creative landscaping!