Soak Up the Rain: What's the Problem?

As we develop our cities and towns, we replace forests and meadows with buildings and pavement. And now when it rains, the water (often called runoff or stormwater) runs off roofs and driveways into the street. Runoff picks up fertilizer, oil, pesticides, dirt, bacteria and other pollutants as it makes its way through storm drains and ditches - untreated - to our streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean. Polluted runoff is one of the greatest threats to clean water in the U.S.

When we take action to soak up the rain, we keep rain closer to where it falls and reduce the runoff from our roofs, driveways, and parking lots. Reducing runoff can help prevent water pollution, reduce flooding, and protect our precious drinking water resources. When we soak up the rain, we also help beautify our neighborhoods and bring many other benefits to our communities:

Prevent water pollution - Soaking up the rain helps keep rain water on-site and reduce the polluted runoff flowing into our streets and local waterways.

Reduce flooding - When heavy rain falls, the runoff that flows into the street can back up and cause street flooding. When we soak up the rain we help reduce the amount of water that flows from our properties into the street and the stormwater system.

Protect our water resources - When we soak up the rain we help get water into the ground. This helps to keep our streams and rivers flowing and replenish the groundwater we rely on for drinking water and other uses. By reducing the rush of stormwater flowing downstream we’re also helping to reduce soil and stream bank erosion.

Improve resiliency to climate change - As different parts of the country become drier, wetter or hotter, green infrastructure practices can help communities improve resiliency and prepare for and manage the effects of climate change.

Beautify neighborhoods - When we soak up the rain with trees and rain gardens in our yards and in our cities, we're adding beauty to the landscape.

Cool the air - When we soak up the rain by planting trees and other plants in our urban neighborhoods we're helping to cool the air and reduce urban heat islands.

Save money - When we soak up the rain and reduce the runoff that flows to the street, we reduce the water to be handled by the town drainage systems. This can help lower community costs for managing this water. Green roofs can lower building energy costs; permeable pavements can lower construction costs for residential and commercial development by reducing the need for some conventional drainage features.

Create habitat - When we plant trees, grasses and flowering perennials, especially native plants suitable for the area, we create habitat for birds and insects such as butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

More Information

Stormwater News PSA Exit
Short video introduces what stormwater is, why it's a problem and what you can do to keep it clean.

Step by Step, A Guide To Curbing Polluted Runoff, Long Island Sound Study (PDF) (2 pp, 897 K, About PDF) Exit
Fact sheet describes the problems of pet waste, lawn fertilizer, and car maintenance/washing, and the steps we can take to help prevent pollution and be part of the solution.

Stormwater Basics, Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions Exit
What is stormwater, why is it a problem, and where do I fit in?

Stormwater Runoff 101, NRDC Exit
Video describes the problem of urban runoff and the use of green infrastructure as a solution for reducing the amount of polluted water flowing into our oceans, rivers and lakes.

After the Storm, A Citizen's Guide to Understanding Stormwater, U.S. EPA (PDF) (4 pp, 444 K, About PDF)
This brochure provides a broad overview of stormwater pollution, including runoff from residential and commercial properties, farms, construction sites, automotive facilities, forestry operations and others

Protecting Water Quality from Urban Runoff, Clean Water is Everybody's Business, U.S. EPA (PDF) (2 pp, 176 K, About PDF)
This is a fact sheet about how urban runoff affects water quality

Think Blue Maine Exit
Includes information for homeowners on the steps they can take to reduce polluted stormwater runoff.

Talking Clean Water on the Streets of the Lake Champlain Basin Exit
Where does the water in the lake come from? What steps can be taken to help keep the lake clean.

Polluted Runoff, Nonpoint Source Pollution, U.S. EPA
Nonpoint source pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries pollutants into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal and ground waters. Urban and suburban areas, where much of the land surface is covered by buildings, pavement and compacted landscapes that increase runoff, are one source of nonpoint pollution.

Nutrient Pollution, U.S. EPA
Nutrient pollution is one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems. Stormwater carries pollutants, including the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, into our local waterways.