Managing Stormwater

Stormwater management practices help minimize the impact polluted runoff has on our watershed.  Stormwater refers to rainwater and melted snow that flows over roads, parking lots, lawns and other urban sites.  Under natural conditions, stormwater is intercepted by vegetation and absorbed into the ground where it is filtered, eventually replenishing aquifers or flowing into streams and rivers.  When impervious surfaces such as those in urbanized areas prevent this cycle from occurring, water instead runs rapidly into storm drains, sewers, leaches into lakes and picks up pesticides, road salts, heavy metals, oils, bacteria and other pollutants along the way.

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The number one way in which you can start having an impact is to encourage water to infiltrate into the soil. By encouraging "infiltration", water will soak into the soil and not run off down our roads and sewers.  Rain gardens are a great backyard tool to help manage stormwater on your own property.  Planting native species with deep root structures and creating water detention areas are key to success.

How to Build a Rain Garden

Rain gardens are landscaped areas planted with wildflowers and native vegetation that temporarily retain rainwater runoff from our roofs, roads and lawns.  Another word for this is bioretention; a process that reduces the volume of water entering our storm sewers and decreases flooding.  Typically rain gardens are bowl-shaped and shallow, with native, hardy, low maintenance plants.  Added incentive: EcoSuperior has a rain garden rebate program! Here is a quick 4-step guide to help get your rain garden underway:

  1. Select your site.  Your rain garden should be more than 3 metres from foundation, more than 9 metres from a down spout, and in a low-lying area.  Try and choose an area where drainage is already occurring, and where the plants will have access to full or partial sunlight.  Rain gardens should not be placed directly over septic systems or in an area where water already ponds.
  2. Test your soil.  The type of soil in your garden will influence the rate at which water can seep through the soil.  For example, gardens with clay soils need to be larger to be as effective as sandy soil gardens, and may require augmentation with sand for faster infiltration.  To determine what type of soil is in your backyard, grab a handful of soil and squish it between your fingers.  Does it feel coarse and rough? – sandy soil.  Smooth or floury? – silt.  Fine and sticky? – clay.  A combination of coarse, smooth and sticky? – loam.
  3. Design your garden.  Residential rain gardens typically vary from 10-30 square metres in size and 10-20 centimetres deep.  Consider that the larger your home, the larger your roof surface area, resulting in greater volumes of runoff.  For optimal filtration it is important to keep your garden level.  The slope of your lawn should determine the depth of your rain garden (for more information, refer to Essex Region Conservation Authority's Rain Garden Manual).
  4. Dig and plant!  Call Ontario One Call before you dig! (www.on1call.com or 1-800-400-2255).  Mark out the perimeter of your garden and level out your garden as best you can.  Consider soil type and sunlight as you pick out the plants for your garden.  Do not plant non-native species; for a list of plants native to Northwestern Ontario, refer to the LRCA Native Plants of Northwestern Ontario factsheet.  Planting from seed will result in a longer time before your rain garden is doing its job, but is a budget-friendly option.  If you are planting young plants from local nurseries, dig each hole twice as wide as the plant plug and about a foot apart from its neighbours.  For a list of local native plant suppliers, visit our Landowner Resources page.

For more information on how to build your garden, and for a list of wildflowers and grasses native to Northwestern Ontario, check out the Rain Garden Guide and Native Plants of Northwestern Ontario. (link)

Build a Better Dock

Shoreline buffers are another way to encourage water infiltration into the earth, read up on Shoreline buffers here. From an environmental protection viewpoint, building retaining walls is the most destructive method of shoreline stabilization.  The vegetated area or Riparian Zone that would provide shelter for animals and birds to feed and breed are built over, quickly destroying the ecosystem and wildlife habitat and causing erosion on neighbouring properties.

Docks constructed over water affect the shoreline in many ways.  The materials used may leach toxic chemicals into the water and shade the shallow waters underneath.  If the dock is constructed with cribs or concrete the fish habitat and shoreline transport of sediments and sand will be disrupted.

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NOTE: Roll in/roll out docks and pipe docks that are removed every season do not need approval.  Permanent structures require permits from the LRCA, and potentially the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and/or Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Conserving Our Water

Water conservation works to save money on water and heating bills, reduce the needs for costly expansion of water supply systems and sewage treatment plants and reduces sewage going into treatment plants, allowing them to operate more efficiently.

Water Saving Tips:

  • Install flow-restricting devices and fix leaky faucets and toilets
  • Shut off the tap between uses when brushing your teeth, shaving and doing the dishes
  • Use a rain barrel for watering plants and gardens instead of turning on your outdoor tap
  • Use cold water whenever possible
  • Run only full loads in the dishwasher or washing machine
  • Put your lawn on a water diet
  • Sweep the driveway instead of hosing it off

Low Impact Development

Low Impact Development (LID) is a comprehensive approach to land use planning and design that aims to mitigate the impacts of land use on the environment.  One of LID's main objectives is to reduce the runoff and pollutants that end up in streams and larger water sources by mimicking the pre-development conditions of an area.

Urbanization presents an issue for water sources as it leads to the creation of impenetrable surfaces, leading to more runoff into streams and storm drains than would occur if the land was left untouched.  This reduces the filtration of water and increases flooding risks.

The solution presented by Low Impact Development is to utilize tools such as rain barrels, green roofs, porous pavement surfaces, and the planting of native species to increase the amount of precipitation that can be absorbed into the ground, increasing filtration of pollutants and reducing the chances of a flood.  LID presents an opportunity to actively protect our watershed for present and future generations while simultaneously protecting our investments – in a monetary and a timely manner.

For more information, refer to Credit Valley Conservation's Low Impact Development Guide.