Walnut Infiltration

Infiltration Trench on Walnut Street soaking up rainwater

I worked with a group from Marshfield yesterday who came down for a Jordan Creek tour. While it was too rainy to risk a trip through the culvert, we walked along the surface and visited several projects completed through the Big Urbie grant over the past couple of years. As I explained the ideas behind the projects, I saw the confused expression that I see on both students and adults alike. Often, in my excitement about the creative fixes we are able to use, I overlook the basics of the problem at hand, that is, stormwater pollution. So, to turn the confusion off and the lightbulbs on, I went back to the simple principles behind stormwater issues that we face as a community. It has inspired me to revisit the whole issue for our blog. This may be old hat to many of you, but I hope you can still learn something you hadn’t known before.

Stormwater 101

Stormwater is the word that we use to describe water that hits the ground as rain and then moves. At this point, water has several options:

  • Evaporate
  • Soak into shallow groundwater
  • Soak into deep groundwater
  • Runoff (aka move downhill)

As water hits the ground, it picks up soil and other debris that can be carried or dissolved in the forming puddle. When that puddle is taken up by plants, evaporated by the sun, or soaked into the soil, the contaminants that are held within can be filtered out or left behind on the ground. However, when rain water runs downhill and becomes runoff, those contaminants, or pollutants, are carried along with it to our streams, lakes, rivers, and to the ocean.

The Problem

Stormdrain Gross

Stormwater runoff caught in a storm drain

In a natural area, like a forest, this problem of runoff pollution is often minimal, with very little water becoming runoff and few natural pollutants carried therein. In an urban area, most of the water becomes runoff. This runoff causes these three problems:

  1. Dangerous pollutants are washed into the stream
  2. Erosion occurs where soil is exposed
  3. Flooding occurs more often and much faster than normal

Because our urban stormwater is carried by streams and rivers without any sort of treatment, these problems are big ones; think of all that water could wash off of the streets and yards of our town (oil, gas, fertilizer, dog feces, and more)!

Stormwater GraphicThe main difference between an urban area and a natural area is the surface types found in each. In a natural area, most surfaces that the rain hits can let water soak in or pass through them. Contrast that to an urban area where most of the places raindrops land; like rooftops, sidewalks, and streets; will not let water pass into the ground. What you get is a lot of rain with only one way to go and that is downhill over the surface.

Surfaces that allow water to pass through are called pervious surfaces, while those that block water are called impervious surfaces.

The Solution

New Trees Jordan Creek

Trees planted along Jordan Creek

The simple solution is to increase pervious surfaces and decrease impervious surfaces. By doing this, we could limit how much water moves directly into streams carrying those nasty pollutants. We should also be able to decrease the frequency and severity of flooding in our urban streams. The more water we can get off of the streets and into the soil, the better our streams will be. We do this in a few ways.


  • Plant tress – They are good at soaking up extra water
  • Plant native rain gardens – These natives have deep roots and are also great for wildlife.
  • Install Rain Barrels – Catch it now and use it later for gardens, sprinklers, even toilets!
  • Green roofs – Grow plant on the roof to soak up water where it hits.
  • Pervious pavement – Pavement that lets water through.

For a list of improvements and pictures, you can also visit BigUrbie.org


Much of what we do in schools and at the Watershed Center is teach students and adults about stormwater and where it goes. Teaching people how to protect that water is one of the best ways to keep our streams clean. We also get the chance to work with teachers, community leaders, homeowners, and professionals to show them how each of us has a unique role to play in caring for our water.


Street sweepers play a role in stormwater too! If it is off of the street, it’s out of the streams. Likewise, lawn care, parking lot maintenance and the like help to ensure that the biggest potential contributors to stormwater pollution are kept clean and safe for rain water.


The Future of Stormwater

Walnut Pervious

Previous Pavement along Walnut

As we look ahead, there is exciting stuff on the horizon. Rain barrels and rain gardens are becoming more and more common as people catch on to the stormwater idea. The City of Springfield worked on many of the improvement projects through the Big Urbie grant and now they possess the skills and tools to continue this great work into the future. Our City and County have also been working together on a wonderful Integrated Plan that tackles issues like stormwater, so our future is looking positive.

In the meantime, there is a lot we can each do to care for water. Think of a place at your home or business that you could let water soak in rather than pool up and run off. Visit the Watershed Center to see several examples of these stormwater practices in action. Think about how you can handle pet waste, fertilizer, and trash responsibly. And, as always, keep up with the Watershed Commmittee blog and Water Wednesday to stay abreast of current water issues. Thanks for reading.


Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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