Rural Stormwater Solutions—Stormwater in Rural Areas

This is a brief overview of stormwater in rural areas and how to manage drainage. It will also introduce plans and options for managing drainage that get explored in later videos.

>> Welcome to the first video in the series, Rural Stormwater Solutions. This series is for rural landowners facing drainage challenges, such as ponding water in the driveway, unwanted water coursing through the yard, or ensuring water flows away from buildings and livestock areas. All of the information shared in this video series is detailed on the Rural Stormwater Solutions website at You’ll find fact sheets, videos, resources, and demonstration sites. This first video provides an overview of stormwater with a focus on the unique challenges facing rural landowners. If you live in a rainy area, like the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably heard about stormwater, rain, or snow melt that runs off rooftops and down gutters and streets. It flows into storm drains and pipes to be carried away, eventually, ending up in a nearby river, bay, or larger water body such as Puget Sound. Stormwater is a problem because it can cause flooding and impact water quality. Water picks up everything in its path. That means stormwater can carry invisible pollutants like fertilizers, animal waste, pesticides, oil, bacteria, heavy metals, and other contaminants, even in water that looks clean. Toxins pollute the water and result in closed beaches and shellfish beds, and can enter the food web where they can accumulate in the tissues of fish, seals, salmon, and whales. You might think of stormwater as a city problem. And in fact, most stormwater management efforts have focused on urban watersheds due to the high densities of people, pollutant sources, and impervious areas. But rural areas have stormwater management issues too. Stormwater runoff can damage rural properties and roadways, as well as pollute streams and other water bodies. Rural areas often have many high-quality natural resources such as clear, clean streams, wild salmon, healthy forests, open pastures, and abundant wildlife. It can be harmed by poor stormwater management. Even though rural areas have fewer paved surfaces, fewer homes, and less traffic, they can still flood. Compacted gravel roads, buildings, and farm structures, even pastures are susceptible to runoff problems without the benefit of big city solutions, such as storm drains that convey water away to treatment facilities, in some cases. Of particular concern for rural landowners, stormwater can also flood farm fields, polluting the crops and gardens of the people who live there. Flooding is exacerbated by our changing climate. Climate researchers predict an increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events in Western Washington, leading to an increase in winter stream flows. This can lead to more flooding in the future. When we alter the landscape, the movement of water and the amount of infiltration can be affected, which can result in damage to property and the environment. Vegetation such as trees, shrubs, and grasses capture and slow rainfall, decreasing stormwater runoff. When land is cleared, rain falls directly on the bare soil and flows across the land surface, which can cause erosion and flooding. Compacting soils by parking or driving on it, or by allowing livestock on it, reduces infiltration and creates more runoff. Creating driveways or roads alters the direction of flow and often impounds water upgradient or uphill of the walk. Following the motto, “We all live downstream,” reminds us that changes in the landscape upgradient from your property may affect you as well as the properties and the ecosystems downgradient from you. Fortunately, there are many solutions to rural stormwater challenges. Many rural residents use swales, dispersion methods, rain gardens, and other techniques to manage and infiltrate water on their property. If your groundwater is high, and stormwater can’t infiltrate during the wet months, you may be able to safely convey water across your landscape with other techniques to a place where it can infiltrate. You can also use techniques to intercept water before it can become a problem, such as planting trees and other plants to slow it down. You may want to explore detaining water on your property, providing time for rainfall to filter back into the groundwater. If you don’t have seasonally high groundwater, you can infiltrate the stormwater generated on your site back into the soil to filter and store it in groundwater aquifers. This will result in an increase in your water availability for the dry, summer months, and help maintain stream flows. Now that you’re familiar with stormwater basics, check out the next video on how to make a site drainage map. This is a map that shows how water flows on your parcel of land. Making one is the first step in solving drainage issues on your site. Please visit the website, Rural Stormwater Solutions, and explore ways to help you find solutions to your rural stormwater challenges.

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