During seasonal storms in Florida, rain strikes surfaces such as rooftops, sidewalks and driveways, and within minutes, water will form puddles, and along comes stormwater runoff. At its core, stormwater is simply excess rainfall that does not infiltrate the ground or immediately evaporate back into the atmosphere.
Stormwater runoff uses the path of least resistance to reach its destination. It is a collection of rainfall from the surrounding hard surfaces, lawn and plant beds that flows above ground to a nearby body of water. Stormwater runoff is not just water. It transports nutrients from rainwater, sediment, and other materials found in the urban landscape.
As the runoff moves across saturated surfaces, it transports dissolved plant nutrients, possible pesticides, pet waste, sediment and other debris in the area. Think of stormwater runoff as a mixture of inorganic and organic soup, consisting of “ingredients” such as dissolved particulates and sometimes harmful pathogens that will move to a stormwater pond or a bigger body of water. When concentration levels within this mixture exceed the ability for natural systems — such as ponds and wetlands — to utilize, absorb or break down pollutants, we must take steps to address the issue.
Stormwater treatment level varies considerably. In some areas of Florida, stormwater runoff flows directly into a large body of water without treatment, immediately affecting the water quality. Untreated stormwater can negatively impact natural ecosystems for future generations.
Fortunately, a plant-based lawn and landscape support a system that not only helps filter contaminants and remove sediment, it also provides an infiltration area to recharge the aquifer and drinking water supply.
As a homeowner, you can lessen the stress on natural systems and protect water quality by addressing stormwater runoff from your property. Simply start with your roof and driveway. It is usually the largest connected hard surface and runoff generator on your property. Redirect your downspouts to a rain barrel, an open area in the lawn or a vegetative swale.
Second, manage your landscape to function as a stormwater filter to capture contaminants and limit movement of debris using rain gardens and bio-swales designs. Keep in mind, a healthy, vibrant landscape is an excellent approach to protecting water quality. Homeowners often gain appreciable aesthetic value by using shrubs, groundcovers and turfgrasses in strategic areas to improve stormwater treatment.
Consider the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles regarding the application of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation, adopt the right-plant, right-place design concept and maintain landscape mulch in plant beds. After mowing, recycle grass clippings by sweeping or blowing clippings back onto the lawn, the clippings contain nutrients that are beneficial to the turfgrass.
Also, eliminate soil and yard debris residue build-up from driveway and road gutters to prevent clogging and flooding of critical stormwater conveyances in your neighborhood.
Share your knowledge about these simple rainy season landscape management practices with others. Address the risks and impacts associated with stormwater runoff within your neighborhood and community as a team.
Work with your neighbors to promote and reward the removal of pet waste, responsible use of fertilizer and pesticides applications by reading the label and obeying local ordinances before applying. Protecting Florida’s water quality is essential to our economic, social, and environmental way of life.
Don Rainey is the regional water agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Southwest District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.