This is a section of a five-part series produced by FLOW to educate residents about backyard conservation.  

Seemingly inconspicuous, stormwater runoff is one of the biggest threats facing waterways. Accounting for an estimated 70% of all water pollution, stormwater runoff is rain or snow that, rather than soaking into the ground, runs off paved areas and bare soil into our waterways, picking up pollutants on its way and never being treated. As our world continues to develop and as we continue to replace nature with concrete (with our own watershed gaining over 200,000 people in the next thirty years), this problem will only become more daunting. Moreover, extreme weather and a wetter midwest are in our future due to climate change. By altering your backyard practices, you can help combat stormwater runoff and maybe even save on your water bill. logo


Impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, parking lots, and sidewalks exacerbate the problem of stormwater runoff by not allowing water to soak into the soil at all. This facilitates the collection of pollutants and quickens the pace that waterways are flooded. To reach only 12% impervious surface coverage, as recommended for good water quality by the Center for Watershed Protection, the Olentangy Watershed needs to disconnect 10,068 acres of pavement according to Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District. One way to do this is by transforming over-paved places by simply removing the pavement. For more information, visit Impervious surfaces can be replaced with gravel, wood chips, or other surfaces that allow water to penetrate the earth. 

You don’t have to dig up your driveway to reduce the effects of pavement. Simpler measures can make a big impact, too. 

 Rain Barrel attached to gutters

Photo Credit: 2008 FLOW Backyard Conservation Booklet

Working from the top down, we first must deal with our roofs. Municipal and residential roofs are another source of stormwater runoff. This runoff can be managed to prevent overflowing sewers and backups in our basements. Keeping clear gutters and installing gutter shields prevent debris from blocking water flow and can keep your gutters in better shape. Directing your downspouts to your lawn or garden at least 6’ away from the foundation of your house gives the water a better chance of being absorbed and you a better chance of not wading through a flooded basement. A splash block at the end of the downspout can help distribute the water even more. Rather than letting water flow out a downspout, it can be collected in a rain barrel. Rain barrels are an easy way to conserve and recycle water. The barrel is placed under a downspout and collects water to be used in your lawn or garden. Check the instructions that come with your barrel for more specific information and tips. 

Rain garden near parking lot.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

Impervious surfaces are not the only cause of stormwater runoff. Soil becomes saturated quickly without strong root systems, causing water to runoff. By planting native plants and trees adapted to the local water conditions, more water is soaked up or less water is needed and thus added to your bill. To increase the absorption potential of your yard even more, consider adding a rain garden. Rain gardens are not a water garden or wetland, but rather a garden in a shallow bed to hold and soak up runoff. Rain gardens can remove up to 90% of nutrients and chemicals from runoff and are more effective than typical gardens at soaking up water. You can plant a rain garden in a depression where rain normally pools, or call 811 before digging a new bed. Rain gardens differ from typical gardens by using soil that increases water infiltration and water-loving plants. For more details on planting a rain garden, check out Just as depressions can be transformed into rain gardens, sloped areas and hills can be terraced. Sloped areas allow water to pick up erosion and flow quickly, causing sediment to end up in our waterways, where they block sunlight and worsen water quality. Terraces prevent erosion by creating level steps where you can plant mini-gardens. For more details on making terraces, check out the USDA’s online instructions

Terrace with planting at the side of a house.

Photo Credit:

However you alter your backyard, whether that means planting a meadow or just a few more native plants, your choices can make a big positive impact on the issue of stormwater runoff. For more information on stormwater management and backyard conservation, you can consult FLOW’s website, tips from the EPA and the National Wildlife Federation, or you can hire a local landscaping agency.