Landscape Design and Maintenance
Landscape design and maintenance is a collection of practices that can be implemented in both the short and long terms to reduce the effect of landscaping practices on stormwater runoff quantity and quality. These practices include using site appropriate native plants for landscaping, disconnection of downspouts, reduction of chemical application, and proper disposal of yard waste.
- Results in water conservation.
- Reduction in chemical uses equals less runoff of those chemicals downstream.
- Less organic debris and bacteria in waterways.
Restoring your yard with native vegetation is one of the best things to do for the environment while also saving time and money. Once established, native plants don’t require fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides or watering. A diverse landscape reduces susceptibility to disease and pest outbreaks. Native plant root systems are often much deeper than those of typical lawn species thereby offering greater soil stability, higher evapotranspiration, and better infiltration of stormwater. Greater infiltration results in better pollutant filtering and more water replenishing the aquifer. Since maintenance is very limited, the amount of stress placed on the environment in terms of added fertilizers and pesticides is reduced. Native seeds and seedlings can be found at local nurseries and are easy to plant.
Water Efficient Landscaping
Kentucky bluegrass, aka common turf grass, is native to areas that receive more than 40 inches of rain each year. However, it is often planted in places across the nation that receive much less annual precipitation. Lawn maintenance often requires much more water than native landscape maintenance. In addition, lawns do not have very high infiltration rates and are not as advantageous for groundwater recharging or pollutant filtering. By using native vegetation and ‘climate appropriate’ landscaping it is possible to conserve both money and water.
Use Phosphorus-Free Fertilizers
Phosphorus is one of the most problematic pollutants in stormwater. It wreaks havoc on aquatic ecosystems, particularly in streams and lakes. High levels of Phosphorus result in excess algae growth that depletes the water of oxygen, drastically reduces water quality and ultimately can cause fish kills. Therefore it is important to decrease the amount of Phosphorus in order to improve watershed health.
Phosphorus is a common nutrient found in lawn fertilizer. However, for most yards this type of fertilizer is often unnecessary. A soil test will be able to determine whether a fertilizer with Phosphorus is needed.
There are three numbers on fertilizer bags for the Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium nutrient amounts. A Phosphorus-free fertilizer will have a zero as the middle number. Regardless of the type of fertilizer used, it is important to apply the minimal amount of fertilizer necessary. It is also recommended that the fertilizer is only applied once a year, early fall is the best time to do this. Make sure to sweep up leftover fertilizer on sidewalks and driveways and dispose of it properly in the garbage.
Many downspouts on homes in Lake County are directly connected to the stormsewer system, discharging thousands of gallons of stormwater off a single roof each year. For example, the average rainfall in Lake County during the year 2007 was 32.8 inches. That means that a 1,000 square foot rooftop would have generated over 20,400 gallons of runoff during the year. This runoff is channeled into connected downspouts and then into the stormsewer, which if filled to capacity could begin to overflow.
The overflow goes directly into Lake County streams and rivers, or in the worst cases may backup in the system’s pipes and results in flooding of streets and basements. In newer developments the stormsewers are connected to wet or wetland detention ponds that help filter the pollutants out of the water before it reaches the streams, however in a storm this water still has the capability of backing up and flooding urban or residential areas. By disconnecting the downspout, the runoff will soak into the yard and pollutants will be filtered out naturally while simultaneously recharging the groundwater. Some runoff can also be captured by the use of rain barrels or rain gardens. Some communities in Lake County are starting to mandate the disconnection of downspouts, while others are prohibiting it as a means of limiting water disputes between neighbors. Be sure to check with your local community on the regulations in your area.
Proper Disposal of Yard Waste
Yard waste can pose a significant threat to streams and lakes. Debris such as branches and leaves are often inappropriately dumped on streambanks and in the channels. When piled up on the streambanks, yard waste often kills riparian (streamside) vegetation that is critical for reducing bank erosion and filtering the water. Yard waste that is thrown directly into the stream can cause an influx of nutrients to the ecosystem.
Proper yard waste disposal is very easy, just compost it away from the stream, bag the waste in a paper bag or put it in a separate garbage can for regular trash pick up. Leaves may also be composted and then used as mulch. For more information on appropriate waste disposal in Lake County check out the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County.
A Citizens Guide to Maintaining Stormwater Best Management Practices (PDF format 513KB)
Note: The following lists of consultants and vendors included in the guide are provided as a public service and does not constitute a recommendation, endorsement or certification of their qualifications or performance record, nor does the absence of a consultant or vendor from the list constitute a negative endorsement. While an effort has been made to provide a complete and accurate listing, omissions, or other errors may occur and therefore, other available sources of information should be consulted. Those seeking professional services are advised to use independent judgment in evaluating the credential of any consultants and vendors appearing on these lists: native plant/aquatic plant vendors and installers, prescribed burn consultants, basin plan control companies.
“Don’t “P” on your Lawn!” Lawn to Lake, Lake Champlain Basin Program http://www.lawntolake.org/tips.htm
“Downspout Disconnection Program,” Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, City of Portland http://www.portlandonline.com/bes/index.cfm?c=43081
“Environmental Health” Lake County Health Department http://health.lakecountyil.gov/Pages/Environmental-Health.aspx
“FEMP Water Efficiency: BMP #4 – Water Efficient Landscaping” U.S. Department of Energy, Federal Energy Management Program http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/water/water_bmp4.html
Fink Park wetland filter: Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
Water efficient landscaping: Neighborhood Link, US Department of Energy
Pond algae: Integrated Crop Management, Iowa State University
Phosphorous-free fertilizer: City of Orlando
Yard waste garbage cans: Zero Waste America