There's nothing quite like a foot of water in your basement to focus the mind on how to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Although natural disasters as powerful as Hurricane Irene wreak havoc that may never be completely avoidable, there are effective ways of minimizing the stormwater impact on your home. Happily, several of these methods benefit the environment as well.
In addition to the potential for flooding your home, stormwater running freely over and out of your yard picks up debris, fertilizer, pesticides, dirt, and other pollutants, and flows, untreated, into the sewers and directly into rivers, ponds and lakes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, stormwater runoff is the most common cause of water pollution, and is a particularly serious problem in our local Passaic River.
So short of French drains and sump pumps (with battery backups), what can we here in Summit do both to keep water out of our houses and to lessen the amount of untreated stormwater polluting the Passaic River and overloading our aging sewer infrastructure?
Keep water away from your foundation with correctly placed downspouts and proper yard slope
Configure your downspouts and yard slope to keep your foundation dry. Downspouts emptying above ground but at least five feet away from the house, and pointing downhill, keep water away from the foundation. No downhill angle? Try a curtain drain, which is a gravel-filled "moat" containing a perforated pipe. Water flows into the "moat" and into the pipe, which directs it to a clear place, a drywell, or a rain garden away from the house. More information is available here.
Keep water in your yard and out of the sewers with porous pavement, rain gardens and rain barrels
Your traditional asphalt or concrete driveway does not allow water to flow through it; water flows over it and out into the street. Porous pavement, on the other hand, allows water to percolate through it into the soil below where the water is naturally filtered and pollutants are removed. Although the cost of porous pavement can be somewhat higher than that of conventional pavement, the long-term savings make it competitive because it is not susceptible to freeze-thaw cycles that often damage conventional pavement. Click here for more information.
Rain gardens are both an effective and lovely way of catching runoff before it hits the streets or your foundation. They look like regular perennial gardens, but are designed to collect stormwater runoff, and allow it to penetrate into the ground rather than flowing out of the yard. As the water percolates down, pollutants are filtered out, nutrients are made available to plants, and pesticides are broken down by microorganisms. Summit has demonstration rain gardens at the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School and at Reeves-Reed Arboretum. For more detailed information on creating a rain garden, click here.
Rain barrels are another popular way to catch runoff from your downspouts. Use collected water for outdoor gardens, house plants, or for washing your car, which can help save you money on your water bill as well. Rain barrels generally hold about 50-55 gallons and are covered with screening to prevent mosquito infestation. The Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station has a detailed and informative webpage on rain barrels and a downloadable brochure. Finally, to keep Summit's sewers clear for water that does make it to the street, do not sweep or rake yard debris into the sewer grates at any time.
Water-logged or water-wise? Take your pick.
By Beth Lovejoy, on behalf of the Summit Environmental Commission