University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
simple changes in the way we manage our properties can have a big
help protect the waterbodies that we play in and depend on.” This
quote from the Homeowner’s Guide to
Stormwater Management, from the New Hampshire Department of
Services, summarizes the details of this 66-page publication. In it
you’ll learn why this is an issue to be
concerned with in our home landscape design and practices, and
details of nine
do-it-yourself steps for a positive impact
natural areas such as forests, heavy rains seep into the soil. In
human-built landscapes, water often runs
from impervious surfaces such as roofs, walks, and drives not into
the soil but
into our waterways. This is “stormwater”
which can impact our watersheds—surface water such as rivers and
groundwater from which many of us get our drinking water.
impact on our watershed is often negative, in several ways.
--change hydrology, or how water
flows over and through the land.
Examples are flooding, streambank erosion, and lowered groundwater
--wash sediment into surface
waters, making water cloudy. This, in
turn, can make it hard for fish to live but better for invasive
plants such as
purple loosestrife to take root and grow.
--wash nutrients from fertilizers
and pet wastes into watersheds. This
speeds up algal growth, which can not only be a nuisance for
boating, but harmful to animals, humans, and particularly fish.
--wash bacteria from pet wastes
into water, making humans and pets sick, and closing beaches.
--wash chlorides from road salt
into waterways. High salt concentrations
kill off freshwater plants, stress aquatic life, and may contaminate
water including private wells.
--wash toxic contaminants into
waterways, such as oil and gasoline from drives and roads, or
herbicides. Many of these are quite
toxic to aquatic life, and can harm other animals and humans.
--increase thermal pollution as
water runs over hot paved surfaces. Such
warm water has less oxygen than cool, so makes it harder for fish to
minimize such negative impacts of your landscape on our watersheds,
these nine practices or changes to your landscape. Specific
construction details are in the
trench. This is simply a trench, about
18-inches wide and about 8-inches deep, with crushed stone of
various sizes in
layers, under the roof dripline. It
captures heavy roof runoff, allowing it to seep into the soil
naturally. It works best in sandy or well-drained soils,
otherwise you may need to install a perforated PVC pipe as well in
trench. This is a trench similar to the
above dripline one, only along a driveway or walk.
--Dry well. Similar to the dripline trench, this is a pit
with gravel to collect heavy water runoff from downspouts and roof
allowing it to then seep into the soil naturally. Typically they
may be about 3 feet on each
side, and deep, the size varying with amount of water to collect.
--Infiltration steps. These gentle wide steps up moderate slopes
allow water infiltration, define walking paths, and reduce erosion.
They work on moderate slopes under 45
degrees, and are typically of wood timbers or stone pavers as the
with crushed stone for the deep steps between each rise.
--Pervious walkways and
patios. While such solid, paved walks
are seen sometimes in public spaces (a good example being the main
walk in the
St. Albans, Vermont park), you can make these at home with space
bricks, flagstones, or other pavers.
Water can soak between pavers into a stone reservoir underneath.
You can find pervious pavers for drives too.
--Rain barrels. Place these large drums, often plastic and
55-gallon capacity or similar, under downspouts to collect water for
in watering plants. Make sure and empty
between rains, and have enough to capture runoff from large storms.
are larger capacity versions.
--Rain gardens. These bowl-shaped gardens utilize soil,
mulch, and plants to absorb runoff and allow it to then seep into
naturally. Not just any plants can be
used, since they need to withstand dry periods, then being in water
durations. You can find more on such
gardens in The Vermont Rain Garden Manual
--Vegetated Swale. Picture this as a long rain garden, a shallow
channel with plants that takes water runoff from paved surfaces and
slowly to an area where it can infiltrate the soil. The plants help
trap sediment, remove
pollutants, and prevent erosion. Swales
are often about 2 to 3 feet deep, with gently sloping sides. If the
soil is compacted or clay, remove a
foot or two from the bottom and add some sand to create a sandy
--Water bar. If you have a moderately steep path, drive,
or walk, consider adding one of these.
Bury a 6- or 8-inch wide rot-resistant timber across the path at an
angle, with a trench of similar depth on the upward side, lined with
(like weed barrier) fabric and filled with crushed stone. As water
flows down the slope it will soak
into the trench, then the timber directs it to the side where it can
you live in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, check out the “Let It
stormwater program (letitrainvt.org) for more resources, including
and financial assistance.