Hurricane Florence and the Hazards of Stormwater Runoff

The Atlantic Hurricane season is now upon us for 2018. The season began on June 1st and runs through to the end of November. Although it is possible for storms to form outside of this time frame, we can expect the bulk of the weather to fall in this period. As Hurricane Florence nears the Carolina coast, many local stores are experiencing empty gasoline pumps and barren store shelves. Hurricane Florence will generate 140 mph (225 kph) winds and drenching rain that could last for days. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency and prompted those who live on the coast to evacuate inland. While many think a hurricane only harms coastal communities, flash flooding, high winds, tornadoes, landslides, and mud slides can cause incredible damage to inland communities both during and long after a major storm event like Florence.

It is important to understand that even after a hurricane passes through your neighborhood, you could still be at risk. The precipitation that does not soak into the ground where it falls is referred to as “stormwater runoff“, which can continue to accumulate and cause flooding issues for several days after the rain stops. This runoff is incredibly good at picking up whatever it comes into contact with as it travels downward to the lowest elevation, so it can sometimes also contain hazardous substances such as debris, chemicals, oils and grease, sediment, bacteria, and other pollutants.

Contamination of local waterways is a major threat that can arise from heavy rainfall. Runoff may pollute rivers, lakes, aquifers, and other water bodies nearby. This can add chemicals and hazardous substances to water sources that people drink and swim in. Runoff may be harmful for humans or livestock which may attempt to feed off of plants or water sources that have been affected by runoff. When water runs off roofs, yards, streets, and parking lots into storm sewers or directly into waterways, it carries with it sediments that clog streams and reduce oxygen in the water, as well as chemicals that can be fatal to aquatic ecosystems and lead to undrinkable water supplies for humans.

What To Do During Hurricane Florence

To avoid contributing to runoff pollution during Hurricane Florence, residents can take certain precautions such as cleaning up any debris or waste in yards and streets, and refraining from fertilizing and watering yards, or using toxic products directly before the hurricane. Other steps you can take include reducing the amount of impervious surfaces on your property, lining impervious surfaces with gravel trenches, using the water that drains off your roof, replacing lawn areas with native plants, adding organic matter to your soil, planting trees, creating a rain garden, installing berms and vegetated swales, as well as reducing the slope of your yard. It is also important to ensure pet waste is disposed of properly, as pet waste left on the ground can be washed into surface waters, causing significant bacterial contamination and boosting the nutrients to unsafe levels. It is also important to secure septic systems to ensure that waste does not seep into runoff.

Rain is never going away, and neither is human infrastructure. However, growing technologies like permeable pavement, rain garden construction in urban centers, and public education can go a long way in protecting the health of the lakes, rivers, and oceans that so many people and animals call home. By working together to preserve plant life that filters storm water and taking steps in our everyday lives to slow runoff and instead use it for something like a rain garden, we can begin to tackle the problem of stormwater pollution together.

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