The Cost of Stormwater

Stormwater is expensive on a number of levels. First, it is expensive to create the structures associated with polluted runoff from areas such as  streets, highways, parking lots, driveways, and landscaping. Smart design which minimizes the size of these areasnot only saves money during construction, it also helps protect our streams and bays and reduces the need for engineered stormwater treatment facilities down the road.

Secondly, the risk of flooding increases with many of the same landscape features that cause polluted runoff. Over the past few years, we’ve seen both in Maine and beyond the extensive property damage and infrastructure repairs that result from flooding. A natural landscape, or a landscape designed to mimic natural hydrology, greatly attenuates the flow of water to streams when it rains, protecting people and property.

Polluted runoff is also expensive in terms of health. Untreated stormwater runoff is generally not safe. Countless studies show runoff contains higher levels of bacteria and viruses, oil and grease from cars, fertilizers and pesticides, toxic metals, and sometimes industrial or chemical waste products. The high levels of nutrients from fertilizers and eroded soils can contribute to toxic algal blooms, affecting shellfish harvesting. The bacteria in stormwater can result in beach advisories. For more information about what’s in urban runoff, see this page by EPA on Urban Areas

Cities across the nation are slowly coming to grips with the reality of stormwater pollution. Separating miles of sewer and storm pipes which had been combined decades ago is expensive, but it means untreated sewage no longer pours into streams and bays after a heavy rainstorm. Other positive changes at the municipal, state, and individual level are increasing the capacity of our urban landscape to filter, detain, or prevent polluted runoff from impairing our waters. By choosing well-researched stormwater features, installing them properly, and maintaining them over time, we are making an intelligent investment which will help protect us and our community.