Stormwater runoff is water after precipitation that flows over the ground directly into streams and other bodies of water. Impervious, hard and compacted surfaces increase the amount of stormwater runoff and prevent runoff from entering the ground. In forested settings there is little to no runoff, while in urban, residential and developed areas there is a lot. Stormwater causes flash flooding, erosion, habitat loss and destabilization of land and property. Stormwater runoff collects pollutants including sediment, trash, oils, chemicals and fertilizers into our waterways.

Unlike groundwater which is cooled by being underground and enters bodies of water through springs, runoff never enters the ground and is often heated by surfaces such as pavement. In Western N.C., ground and spring water is about 56 degrees all year, even in summer. When heated stormwater runoff enters a body of water it is known as “thermal shock,” and is detrimental to aquatic organisms that depend on cool water, such as trout. Stormwater runoff is rarely treated and enters streams directly or through storm drains/sewers.

Storm drain

Oil and trash entering a storm drain from a parking lot.

There are simple techniques to greatly reduce the impacts of stormwater such as Stormwater Control Measures, also called Best Management Practices, which are used to protect our water. SCMs are structural, vegetative or management practices installed to treat and reduce stormwater runoff. Plants are effective in SCMs because of the chemical reactions that occur with the roots of plants, microbes, water and soil. Atomic compounds from photosynthesis (how plants breath) and oxygen released around the root zone of plants breakdown pollutants contained in stormwater runoff.

A bioretention cell

A bioretention cell, a type of SCM, in Chapel Hill. 

Blue Ridge RC&D is involved in many waterway projects in our area to improve water quality and prevent property loss and damage from erosion and flooding. Many water resource projects relate to riparian zones, the area next to streams and rivers, and the interface between land and water. A riparian zone that has plants can remove pollutants and will slow down or prevent stormwater runoff from directly entering a stream, and prevent property damage, loss and effects from flooding. Improving riparian zones is often cheap and easy. Where does the water go from your driveway or street when it rains? If it runs directly into a stream, maybe consider planting some flowers, shrubs, live stakes or trees to form a buffer or riparian zone. Not mowing or weed-eating along streams is a very effective technique.

It is easy to forget about water, but each time it rains or snows, water hits the earth and begins a long course to the ocean. Rain is usually clean, without sediment, trash, debris, oils, chemicals, and fertilizers in it, but when rain reaches the surface as stormwater runoff, it can quickly collect these pollutants. The short lived first part of water’s course, as stormwater runoff, is often the most impactful and harmful to water quality. Once the water is polluted and enters a stream or river, it will remain polluted all the way to the ocean and will continue to remain polluted once in the ocean. It is important to remember our downstream neighbors.

If it's on the ground ...

If it’s on the’s in our water.

See the Blue Ridge RC&D website for helpful documents for addressing water related issues: or contact: Blue Ridge Resource Conservation & Development, Jessica Janc, High Country Watershed Coordinator in Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, and Wilkes Co.,, (828) 406-6690; Felix Stith, Toe-Cane Watershed Coordinator in Yancey, Mitchell, and Avery Co.,, (828) 279-2453.

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