...What's the problem?
Rivers and lakes are polluted as a result of conventional approaches to urban landscaping and stormwater management. Urban areas are covered with hard surfaces – buildings, streets, driveways, walkways, parking lots. Stormwater systems are engineered to facilitate or speed-up runoff (the movement of water over land), leaving a legacy of poor water quality. Health problems related to water pollution in general are estimated to cost Canadians $300 million per year.
Large concentrations of toxic chemicals, such as oil, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals, wash from the urban environment into the storm sewer system when it rains or during spring snow melts. Hardened surfaces disrupt the natural water cycle and prevent rain from soaking into the ground, bypassing the natural filtration of soil and vegetation.
It is estimated that combined sewer overflows (where sewer and storm sewer water collection is combined) from cities around the Great Lakes amount to hundreds of billions of litres of raw sewage and stormwater each year. Further, the under-funding of updating and replacement of storm sewers is expected to continue for at least two decades and will continue to contribute to degradation of receiving waters.
In summary, stormwater runoff impacts water quality and quantity by:
- transporting pollution directly into lakes and rivers;
- eroding shorelines, loss of topsoil that hastens further runoff;
- warming up surface water, making it more susceptible to waterborne bacteria and hazardous to fragile marine life;
- overflowing sewage treatment facilities, allowing untreated human waste to flow directly into surface water; and
- robbing groundwater aquifers(underground storage of water) of adequate recharge (the ability to gather and store water underground) capacity
RAIN: What's the solution?
Capture and release rain more slowly. This will reduce the volume entering the stormwater system.
Allow more rain to soak into the ground by installing rain gardens and increasing permeable areas.
Avoid polluting activities (leaving pet waste, cigarette butts, spreading lawn fertilizer, de-icing salts, driveway sealing and carwashing).
- Environment Canada, http://www.ec.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=D295883B-1 2010
- Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Redefining Conservation: Annual Report 2009/10, Gord Miller, et al. 2010
- EcoJustice Canada (Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Liat Podolsky, Jode Roberts, Kori Brus). Flushing out the truth: Sewage Dumping in Ontario, 2009
- EcoJustice Canada (Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Liat Podolsky). GREEN CITIES, GREAT LAKES: Using Green Infrastructure to Reduce Combined Sewer Overflows, 2008
- National Water Research Institute. Threats to Sources of Drinking Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Health in Canada, 2008