From Stormwater to Sustainability

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Significant areas of the country have experienced heavy rains this year, leaving government officials to grapple with the problem of how to safely handle excess stormwater. In the Philadelphia area, for instance, with two months left to measure, the 2011 rainfall total is within one half-inch of its record 56.45 inches. Water quality expert Jean Smolen, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and director of Saint Joseph’s University’s environmental science program, says that homeowners should consider adopting current stormwater management techniques to help with the problem.

“With so much rainfall, particularly after a brutal hurricane season and an early snow storm, the ground is already saturated, and that prevents green space from absorbing any additional rain or snow we may get,” says Smolen. “By finding ways to capture and utilize stormwater on their own properties, residents can help their communities avoid some of its negative effects.”

Runoff can lead to erosion or the loss of topsoil – which can impact the growth of grass and other vegetation. In addition, homes with septic systems are at risk when the ground is saturated because it can lead to unexpected overflow that affects groundwater quality. But homeowners need not be alarmed, says Smolen. “There are a number of options available for people to manage stormwater at their homes, and if enough members of a community implement them, it could have a greater impact overall,” she explains.

Stormwater management techniques include using rain barrels to collect and store rain for later use during dry periods, installing green roofs and creating rain gardens specifically designed to curtail runoff. Smolen notes that not only do these methods put the excess water to good use, but they can also add green space to areas that are increasingly covered with impervious materials, like concrete.

“The materials we’re familiar with using to build and grow communities also tend to prevent water absorption, which leads to runoff, says Smolen. “But there are alternatives that exist and are being developed to change that.”

For information about a free stormwater management workshop for homeowners at Saint Joseph’s University, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Nov. 18-20, click here.

Media Contact

Smolen can be reached for comment at, 610-660-1785, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-3240.

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