Spring Showers Bring Spring Runoff

Spring ShowersSpring is in the air. The flowers begin to bloom. New love blossoms. The earth begins to awaken as the days grow longer and the temperatures rise. Spring also means rain, snowmelt and an increase in stormwater runoff that has implications for wastewater management.

Western Canada receives a great deal of rain. Vancouver receives an average of 47 inches per year of rain and snow. Winnipeg receives 20 inches, and cities in Alberta receive 16 to 18 inches.

All this water has to go somewhere. It can return to the water table naturally by absorbing into the ground. It can return to the atmosphere through evaporation. Or it can return to the waterways through runoff channels.

Runoff from streets, sidewalks and other non-permeable surfaces often funnels through the stormwater system and returns to lakes, streams, rivers and harbors. Other runoff runs directly into local waterways like wetlands and estuaries.

These spring showers and melting snow restore a great deal of water to local water sources and groundwater sources in an annual cycle. However, heavier runoff in these months has other implications for water quality and flooding.

Water Quality

Runoff from rain and snowmelt has a significant impact on water quality in the lakes, streams, rivers and estuaries of Canada. As rainfall works its way down the streets, it picks up pollutants from cars, construction sites and landscaping.

These pollutants can include heavy metals, fuel, fertilizers, pesticides and bacteria from animal waste. Runoff is also much warmer and can raise the temperature of water systems impacting local ecology.

It can pollute areas used for commercial fishing and harvesting of shellfish. It can also cause algae blooms that cut off oxygen to other species. Water severely affected by runoff can also kill and harm local wildlife.

The Capital Regional District in British Columbia monitors storm water annually and its affect on public health and marine life and then develop best practices around managing storm water runoff. Other municipalities also manage and monitor runoff to local waterways to ensure cities are doing their best to protect local wildlife.

Flooding Concerns

Runoff also brings with it flooding concerns that can affect homes and municipal sewer systems.

As snow melts and rain falls, the ground absorbs it like a sponge. The additional runoff raises the water table and can eventually raise the water table enough to affect homes. Homeowners should monitor their basements and foundations for cracks or seeping water. They should also look out for sewer backups.

Streets can also get flooded during heavy rains. When the storm water systems become overloaded with runoff from the streets, it can sometimes drain into the sewer manholes and sewage pipes overloading the sewer system. This can sometimes cause sewer systems to back up into homes.

Additionally, when the level of water rises in rivers, river water sometimes floods back into the storm water system leading to flooding in streets or sewer backups.

Taking Action

You can’t do much about the rain or the annual snowmelt and runoff. You can, however, take steps to mitigate the effects of spring runoff in your community.

In this blog, we have talked about several actions individual homeowners and businesses can take to help capture more rainfall and runoff in natural ways that lessen the impact on the storm water system. Those efforts include:

  • Ecoroofs or green roofs;
  • Rain gardens;
  • Permeable concrete in driveways, parking lots and walkways;
  • And using commercial car washes instead of washing your car in your driveway.

All of these efforts help to mitigate the harmful effects of storm water runoff, which naturally increases each spring.

So as the rain falls, the snow melts and the flowers bloom, keep in mind that all the water has to go somewhere. Together, we can work to make sure the water helps and does not harm our precious waterways.