U.S. Water News Online
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A heavy downpour can do it. So can
melting snow or a lawn sprinkler. In fact, any moisture source can do
it with some help.
The worst-case outcome can be widespread disaster, as it was here
during the flood of 1993. More often, however, water runoff becomes a
problem when it's a "straw." Enough straws can finally "break the
back" of a landscape, basement, streambank, fishing lake and/or
drinking water supply.
"For their own survival, farmers have to take runoff seriously.
But all of us have a part in the same risks and responsibilities --
no matter where we live, " said Barbara Johnson, coordinator of the
Home*A*Syst program based in Kansas State University's College of
Every roof, sidewalk, driveway and street creates runoff, Johnson
explained. Most lawns do, too.
"This runoff, in turn, can carry along everything from yard debris
and pet wastes to pesticides and oil pan drips -- which can add up to
significant pollution where lots of people live close together." she
Two related factors make urban pollution a problem for the lakes,
rivers and even the wells that may be serving as a recreation area or
municipal water supply:
1. If urban runoff doesn't end up around a basement or in another
nearby low spot, it usually has just one place to go -- a storm
2. Storm drains start with street gutters and end up at the
nearest natural body of water. They are totally separate from the
closed-pipe sewage systems that connect to waste treatment plants.
"Evidently, many urban residents haven't quite realized the
connections -- or lack of connections," Johnson said. "Like all
homeowners, they know poor drainage can be a problem when runoff
damages foundations or flows into basements. The clean-up alone is a
mess. Making sure the problem doesn't continue can be difficult and
"But even when drainage is flowing away from the house, as it
should, it can help create hazards."
She provided these everyday examples:
"To get an idea of the amount of water involved, consider the fact
that every one-inch rain hits the roof of a 2,000-square-foot house
with about 1,250 gallons of water. And that roof is just one part of
a property's surface drainage system," Johnson said.
When Mother Nature isn't supplying rain, many homeowners try to
apply about 1 inch of water every time they irrigate their lawn or
garden, she added.
So, multiplied by every home in a community, the potential for
pollution is huge -- particularly during the growing season.
"Runoff is natural," Johnson said. "This spring, we've needed it,
because our lakes and rivers have been low. Farm ponds have been
drying up since last summer.
"What isn't natural is the amount of concrete, brick and asphalt
we've got in urban settings. Those surfaces keep rainwater from
soaking into the ground. They can create, direct and accelerate water
flow, making it easy for runoff to pick up everything from gum
wrappers to discarded pop cans."
Homeowners basically have two ways they can help counter the
1. Make sure their site not only protects their home from runoff
and controls soil erosion but also makes use of rainfall to water
lawn and garden, not flood street gutters.
2. Never leave anything where water can absorb and/or carry it
along to storm drains and/or otherwise pollute groundwater.
"Even lawn clippings and construction sand can create problems
elsewhere -- not to mention the salt you used on sidewalks last
winter and any insecticides you may be applying this spring," Johnson
Home*A*Syst is a national self-help program, developed by
Extension engineers and safety specialists. Covering everything from
storm water drainage to indoor air quality, it aids people in
assessing ways in which home management can add to or subtract from
the safety of their family and environment.
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