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Stormwater Reuse and Recycle Best Practices

Stormwater Reuse and Recycle - Stormwater in a bucket
Cynthia Cline
Cynthia Cline
May 6, 2022

In the past, stormwater was typically looked upon as a nuisance. Management efforts focused on whisking it away from private and public properties and into local waterways. Over time, this approach has led to increasing water pollution, depletion of local aquifers, and several other undesirable effects.

Fortunately, stormwater is now being recognized as the important (and free) resource that it is. Once properly recycled, this relatively clean water can be reused as an environmentally responsible way to resolve drainage problems on properties, provide irrigation water for parks and other green areas, and much more.

What Is Stormwater Reuse and Recycle?

Rain collected in a barrel

Recycling stormwater is the act of collecting rainwater runoff from rooftops and other impervious surfaces and storing it for use in the future. Some call this process stormwater harvesting. Whatever the name, it has become more prudent and important than ever to recycle and reuse this valuable asset.

Systems for stormwater reuse and recycling include simple components to capture rainfall, such as rain barrels for residential use and cisterns and detention ponds as part of larger systems used by cities and municipalities.

Capturing and recycling stormwater makes sense for communities as a primary water source or as a backup system to supplement municipal water and wells. The following tips can offer stormwater system managers some insights on maximizing recycling and reuse efforts to gain these benefits and more.

TIP: Use a Large Enough Catchment Receptacle

Catching stormwater, whether on private or public property, requires a large enough container to store all that water while it waits to be reused. While this might seem obvious, not everyone realizes how much rainwater accumulates and how quickly.

For example, a homeowner with a 1,000 square-foot roof can collect about 560 gallons of rainwater runoff for each inch of rainfall. If the homeowner attempts to channel all the rainfall through their roof gutters and pipes into one 55-gallon rain barrel, the outcome could be disastrous.

Cities often have a collection system that includes the initial catchment area and a network of curbs, gutters, and storm sewers. The system might also have other devices that filter the water and prepare it for its next use. The amount of water captured after a one-inch rainfall in larger municipal areas is staggering to imagine. Larger systems often use detention ponds to handle the copious amounts of captured water.

Even a dry city like Los Angeles, for example, has upwards of 100 billion gallons of runoff water going into its waterways each year. Detention ponds work well, as they can be constructed large enough to handle a good amount of runoff.

This strategy gives the water a chance to stay in one place and soak into the ground while benefiting from the filtering effects of the soil and landscape vegetation. This approach can also increase the habitat areas for local wildlife and offer recreational opportunities for surrounding areas.

TIP: Have a Reuse Plan Ready

After capturing stormwater runoff, the accumulated water must be depleted to make room for the next rainfall, or the system will overflow instead of working as planned. Homeowners can use recycled rainwater to irrigate plants, run an outdoor fountain, fill up a fish pond, or for other uses.

This water is not potable and needs filtering and purification if that is the intended use. This process can be accomplished with the help of various purifiers on the market built just for this purpose.

Recycling and reusing water also make sense in terms of money saved. Some states and cities suffer from constant drought conditions and have historically depended on water from other areas hundreds of miles away. Importing water involves extensive water management systems and the costs related to maintenance, repairs, upgrades, and more.

Since recycled water is already on-site and costs nothing, cities can plan to use it to add to existing water supplies. This move can ease any issues some locales face related to water usage restrictions.

TIP: Keep Captured Water Covered

Rain barrel covered

Stormwater reuse and recycle plans can go south quickly if the stored, standing water becomes infested with mosquito larvae or algae starts to grow inside the container. This tip is probably more relevant to homeowners with rain barrels or smaller containers to catch water since larger public systems are often enclosed storage tanks such as underground cisterns. If collecting stormwater and storing it in an open container, protect the water surface with a fine net. 

To prevent algae growth, store captured rainwater in a dark container. Sunlight is the food that algae needs and opaque containers that block sunlight can solve that problem easily. Once stored water becomes affected by algae or mosquitoes, other remedies exist. Still, they involve more work, cost, and possibly chemical treatments to kill the pathogens and improve the water quality.

Larger systems often use big, uncovered detention ponds to catch and store runoff. A general motto in water recycling is the lowest-quality water for the lowest use. In this case, the uncovered water from the detention pond is best suited for irrigation. Reusing water for irrigation frees up higher-quality water resources for other, more appropriate, or necessary uses.

TIP: Minimize Potential Pollutants on Runoff Surfaces

Rainwater from a residential roof may contain pollutants such as organic matter, dust, bird droppings, and potential chemical residue from the roofing material or treatments used, such as fire retardants.

Although rooftops usually don’t have an excessive amount of pollutants, stormwater runoff from roofs will not be drinkable under any circumstance but works well for irrigating gardens and other non-consumption uses. In fact, recycled rainwater works better in gardens because it does not contain chlorine.

Larger scale systems come with much bigger challenges in keeping stormwater free of pollutants. The stormwater may pick up car oil as it runs off a parking lot or leaves and sediment as it rushes through neighborhood gutters. Trash and other debris get picked up by stormwater and carried into storm drains and catch basins. When this happens, not only does the stormwater become more polluted, but the chances increase for flooding, erosion, and other issues.

Street sweeping, proper disposal of chemicals, lawn clippings, and trash are just a few ways to minimize the number of pollutants lying around, waiting to be swept up by runoff. Stormwater cleaning requires fewer resources with a well-maintained runoff management system that does its job of removing pollutants and debris as it guides the runoff to a recycling container.

TIP: Address Clogs and Blockages in Drainage Systems Proactively

Removing leaves from drainage

Regardless of the size of the stormwater system, drains and pipes can become clogged as debris and pollutants accumulate with the flow of water.

Stormwater systems do their job well as long as they receive maintenance regularly. Maintenance and repairs should ideally be completed before the rainy season. Once the rains start, resolving clogged systems becomes much more expensive, laborious, and time-consuming. Stormwater conveyance systems can have large numbers of storm drains, pipes, culverts, and swales that need regular care to operate correctly.

When storm drains get clogged, water has nowhere to go. This event creates flooding, especially in urban areas. Debris and vegetation can grow or accumulate in pipes and culverts, blocking the water flow and causing property damage and more flooding.

TIP: Call a Storm Drain Maintenance Company Proactively

Recycling and reusing stormwater makes good sense, but problems are bound to happen when a stormwater management system is not maintained and in good repair. 

Storm drain maintenance companies have expertise in inspecting, cleaning, and maintaining stormwater control systems. These companies exist to take the burden off municipal staff, homeowners’ associations (HOAs), and other entities charged with managing and upkeeping stormwater management systems and devices.

Contact CatchAll Environmental to see how we can service and maintain your system before the next storm event hits.