Pollution solutions: Rain gardens, rain barrels

Above is a rain garden at Kissimmee Lakefront Park.

Summer is coming. And with the heat, comes rain.

Where does all this rainwater go? Some of it soaks into the ground, some evaporates back into the air, but some also runs off into water bodies.

Rain that runs off the ground is called stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff can pollute our water bodies and significantly impact the environment, economy, and human health.

As our community grows, so too does the amount of roads, sidewalks, parking lots and roofs. These hard, “impervious” surfaces make it difficult for the ground to soak up rainwater. Instead, water runs off the pavement picking up fertilizer, pesticide, litter and other pollutants along the way. The polluted water runs into the nearest stormwater drain or water body, where it can seriously harm the environment. Pollution not only harms plants and animals, but can also impact human health and the economy.

How does this happen? Take for example algae blooms. While algae blooms are a natural occurrence, water polluted with nutrient-rich fertilizer can worsen a bloom by “feeding” it. The algae blocks sunlight and oxygen levels decrease. This can kill the vital plant communities and aquatic animals down below. This affects industries such as boating, fishing and tourism that rely on clean water and healthy plants and animals.

Thankfully, there is a way to reduce stormwater runoff that not only protects the environment, but is also beautiful and can provide opportunities for recreation and education. This stormwater management approach is called low impact development (LID).

What is Low Impact Development (LID)?

In areas where land hasn’t been developed, the environment works naturally to hold, filter and release stormwater.

Low impact development, or LID, uses environmentally-friendly stormwater systems to mimic these natural processes. As central Florida rapidly develops (and more and more impervious surfaces emerge), there is a great opportunity to use LID in our homes and communities.

There are many examples of LID including: rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable pavement, berms and swales, green roofs and green parking. Each month, I will introduce a couple types of LID beginning with rain gardens and rain barrels.

Rain gardens

A rain garden is a depressed (lowered) area of land filled with plants. The rain garden collects and filters stormwater to reduce flooding and clean water.

If properly designed and maintained, it can increase property value, attract pollinators, and add a splash of beauty to the community.  The key is proper rain garden design using native, Florida-friendly plants.

Want to see a rain garden in action? If you find yourself near Kissimmee Lakefront Park, check out the rain gardens and read the educational signs to learn more.

Rain barrels

A rain barrel is just as it sounds – a barrel that holds rainwater. It is positioned under a downspout to collect runoff from a roof. The collected water can then be used for water your lawn and garden.

However, because the water has been in contact with the roof, it shouldn’t be used to water edible plants, wash dishes or for drinking. A rain barrel is a great way to add an LID technique to your home.

For more information about LID, contact Krista Stump, UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County at 321-697-3000 and visit a calendar of events at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/osceola.

Krista Stump is a natural resources agent with UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County.