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How you can help reduce flooding, improve water quality - March 18, 2013

As we have seen with Hurricane Sandy and Winter Storm Saturn, one of the biggest problems major storms pose to our coastal bays watershed is flooding. Due to numerous factors, including our water table and soil composition, we often experience flooding during major rainstorms, which can cause serious damage to houses, businesses and other infrastructure.

While it may seem daunting, there are many simple things that most homeowners or families can do to help reduce local flooding in their area and increase water quality.

One of the easiest ways to reduce flooding from storms around the house is to install rain barrels. A rain barrel is a simple device which connects to your home’s gutters and holds stormwater instead of letting it run off into your yard or street. Most rain barrels hold about 50 gallons of rainwater and can be connected in series so that they can store even more stormwater.

The water caught and held in the barrels can be used to do any number of things, including watering gardens, and because it’s rain water, it is free and does not increase your water bill.

Another effective way to help mitigate flooding is to install a rain garden.

A rain garden is a great way to reduce flooding in your yard and help reduce water pollutants, while beautifying your yard and attracting wildlife. Rain gardens are usually placed in the lowest area of the lawn and consist of layered soil types with plants to help retain water without creating a pond or open water.

The most difficult part of implementing a rain garden is the planning. Finding a suitable location for the garden is equally as crucial as the soil and plants used. Rain gardens are also useful in reducing the amount of pollution that reaches our coastal bays because the plants and soil help to retain and break down harmful pollutants.

When planting a rain garden, it is best to use native plants because these plants can survive the major seasonal fluctuations of the coastal bays’ climate, are better habitat for local animals and are better adapted to living in partially flooded and wet soils. A properly placed rain garden can have most of the stormwater from one or more yards running into it, resulting in wet or partially flooded soils. Native plants also require little to no fertilizers or pesticides because they are already accustomed to our soil composition and pest problems.

There are numerous lawn tips to help reduce flooding and improve water quality. Try to use fertilizer or pesticides as little as possible. When stormwater runs off lawns where fertilizer and pesticides were used it picks up these pollutants and carries them to the coastal bays, contributing to numerous water quality issues.

Another tip to help reduce flooding and water pollution is to let your lawn grow. You save time and money on gas for the lawn mower, and it is better for the grass to be longer because it is less prone to disease, is naturally thicker and helps hold water better due to a more extensive root system.

Another good way to reduce local flooding of streets and houses is to make sure storm drains in your neighborhood are stenciled and remain trash free. Stenciling a storm drain is easy; you can either attach a sticker or spraypaint a pre-made stencil that states that the storm drain leads to a body of water and should remain debris free.

Storm drains often empty straight into bodies of water, so any trash that gets into the storm drains is carried straight into our rivers and coastal bays. By keeping storm drains clean, it greatly increases their effectiveness.

While picking up pet waste will not reduce flooding, it will help reduce nutrient pollution in our coastal bays. Dog and other pet wastes cause multiple water quality problems. Pet waste that is washed into the coastal bays can also be a problem for human health because it contains E. coli, viruses and parasites.

As we all know, water runs downhill. This means that while one family might do everything right in their yard, if they are downhill from neighbors who use no stormwater management practices, then the family that lives downhill can still be inundated with stormwater that did not even fall on their property.

We must work together as a community in order to help control local flooding in our coastal bays area because stormwater does not affect one or two families — it affects us all.

For more information on how to reduce flooding and improve water quality, check out the Coastal Bays Homeowners Guide at

Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

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