The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.
Rainstorms regularly wreak havoc on traffic as water fills commuter routes, while king tides can flood streets even on calm sunny days. In my own neighborhood in the north end of Virginia Beach, flooding is so severe that even emergency vehicles like ambulances and firetrucks struggle to get through the high water.
Sea level rise is occurring on such a massive scale that it's easy to feel that there's nothing we can do as individuals. But there are steps you can take at home to alleviate flooding due to rainfall, a big part of the problem here.
Most of these practices involve holding excess water and allowing it to filter into the ground slowly. They include relatively easy and affordable steps like planting trees and installing rain gardens. What's more, such things also reduce polluted runoff, a major source of problems in local waterways.
I can tell you firsthand that they work. At my own home, those perpetual soggy patches in the yard have disappeared since I installed rain barrels and dry wells. While it may seem like a drop in the bucket, it's all about cumulative impact. If most of the homes in your neighborhood would implement these practices, you would notice a real decrease in nuisance flooding.
Each property is unique, but one of the following five things is likely to work for you.
- Rain gardens are shallow basins filled with native plants. These gardens collect and absorb rainwater running off rooftops, driveways and streets, reducing flooding.
- Planting trees in open or grassy areas creates a leafy canopy that intercepts rainfall and reduces runoff. The water is instead released slowly or later evaporates. A street tree can intercept from 760 to 3,000 gallons per year, depending on the size and species.
- Permeable pavers, unlike traditional concrete or asphalt, are made up of porous materials that allow water to pass through. Using permeable pavers on a path, driveway, or street means rainfall can soak into the ground, instead of pooling and running off hard surfaces.
- Rain barrels collect and store rainfall flowing from roofs and through downspouts. This water can later be used to water lawns and gardens during dry spells.
- Dry wells are shallow trenches filled with stone or gravel that hold runoff, allowing it to soak into the ground.
While cities in Hampton Roads are making progress by addressing flooding on municipal property, governments can't do it all on their own. Most of the land in Hampton Roads is private property. That's why it is so important that homeowners and businesses do their part.
Fortunately, some local governments are recognizing the value of these techniques by offering incentives to property owners.
Norfolk recently took a big step in the right direction. The city approved a program to reduce the required stormwater fee for property owners who deploy techniques that reduce runoff, like the ones described above.
I hope that other cities in Hampton Roads will see this example and follow suit.
If we all are able to hold back excess water and rainfall at the source, at our own homes, we can make a dent in the flooding problem.
What's more, many of these steps also beautify the neighborhood, save money, attract wildlife and help clean up local rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.