When it rains in urban areas, water can quickly start to accumulate on streets and sidewalks. This is due to the fact that roads, sidewalks, roofs, and parking lots are impermeable—water can’t get through them. Instead, the water runs over these hard surfaces until it can get into the ground. In urban areas, this will probably be via a storm drain.
Urban runoff water isn’t as clean as it looks. When rainwater starts flowing across urban landscapes, it can pick up anything and everything that’s on the ground. Sediment, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides get picked up and carried away by the flowing rain. Fecal coliform bacteria from the waste of dogs, birds, and other animals can be washed away. Gas, oil, and garbage can also be picked up by the moving water. All of these pollutants end up in the storm drain—which, in many urban areas, ends up directly in the river without being treated.
There are many simple things we can do to reduce the amount of contaminants entering our water. Avoid applying fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides just before a rainstorm, and be cognizant of the amounts being applied. Cover bare patches of soil with grass clippings or mulch to protect them from the force of rain drops. Monitor your vehicles to make sure they aren’t leaking coolant or oil—and definitely don’t dump used oil down a storm drain! Also, make sure to pick up after your pup when out on a walk; less poop on the ground means less bacteria in the water. Using rain gardens and permeable pavers can help rain infiltrate into the ground, rather than running over dirty concrete. Read more about urban conservation practices HERE. With these simple practices, it’s easy to improve the quality of water in urban areas!
Enhanced Learning Activities (recommended for Grades 2-5)