Path Home Shows 2012 Show Archive January 2012 Show 1201 Water Runoff

Water Runoff

Value Added: Americans love their lawns, but a recent study shows the average homeowner applies six times more chemicals per acre than a farmer does. We look at the costs of green grass.
Water Runoff

Pesticide on its way to a stream

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Oklahoma Stormwater and Low Impact Development

Show Dates

Show 1201: Value Added - Water Runoff

Air date: January 30, 2011



Rob McClendon: Well, storm water runoff is the No. 1 cause of water pollution in the U.S.

Just a quarter inch of rain on the typical American roof will fill a 55-gallon barrel.

Now a similar rain on a mega-store parking lot produces over 125,000 gallons of water that all runs off, which can overwhelm local streams with chemicals and sediment.

But new, stricter federal regulations are clamping down on what flows off our lawns and our driveways.

Joining me now is our Courtenay DeHoff.

Courtenay DeHoff: The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time is putting limits on the amount of storm water runoff that’s allowed to flow into our streams.

Federal courts have ruled the Clean Water Act needs stricter regulations, regulations that could change everything from parking lots to neighborhood lawns.

[sounds of mowing/edging yard]

A widespread obsession is growing in America’s neighborhoods…

Male Voice: I don’t want to be embarrassed…

Courtenay: perfect lawns.

Male Voice: when people walk by and see my yard.

Courtenay: Manicured and fertilized grass may look good, but according to lawn historian Virginia Jenkins it’s wrecking our environment.

Virginia Jenkins: America’s attachment to the lawn is something that was advertised, marketed, imposed on people as an upper-class aesthetic that most people had to learn.

Male Voice: All she had to do was cut one strip around the outside of the lawn and then set the mower on automatic. From then on, there’s nothing to do but drink a toast to a timesaver that feels its way along.

Virginia: I think most people assume that a lawn is a natural phenomenon, that everybody has lawns and that’s what it’s supposed to look like. In the 1900s, 75 percent of the people in the United States lived in rental housing; they didn’t own their own homes. It was only with the spread of people owning their own homes in the suburban areas that you got the development of the American lawn.

Courtenay: And with it, all the chemicals it takes to keep it green.

In the documentary “Gimme Green,” filmmakers take a hard look at an American tradition.

Male Voice: And you’re mulching too, right, got the mulching duck set up?

Preacher: What you do to get the good grass to grow, you nurture it, you feed it, and the same is true spiritually.

Courtenay: Each year, Americans spend over $40 billion on their yards and use 30,000 tons of pesticide, much of which finds its way into our nation’s streams.

Well, controlling runoffs isn’t just about the lawns, but about all the pavement and cement surrounding it.

Jason Vogel is a storm water specialist at OSU and says people need to let their yards grow naturally.

Jason: Basically you’re trying to enhance natural processes that are happening on the landscape. You’re trying to enhance infiltration into the soil, trying to enhance evaporation of water into the air, and trying to lessen the amount of water that runs off of the landscape onto streets and into pipes, and eventually into streams.

Urban settings that have issues with runoff and, and pollutants associated with runoff and by using low-impact development or looking at storm water management techniques, that look at water at the source where it rains onto the surface and trying to control it there, then you don’t have to deal with a much bigger problem.

Courtenay: In an effort to keep it out of the streams, developers, as well as homeowners, can take preventative steps.

Jason: It all starts with one lot. It’s management at one residential homeowner residence or at a commercial place and, but -- municipalities are involved with this, states are involved with this, as part of their storm water regulations -- but it all starts at home.

So this week and last week we put together a workshop for municipalities, different folks around the state on, on pervious pavement and designing and specifying pervious pavement.

Courtenay: Pavement that is designed to reduce the amount of runoff by allowing water to run through it.

[sounds of water on concrete]

Jason: Where you have a high amount of impervious areas, any rainfall that comes down is going to run straight off of that impervious area of the concrete or rooftops and pick up pollutants, pick up sediment and flow into our streams.

Courtenay: And wash the chemicals that we apply to our yards back into our water supply.

Well, storm water runoff is the No. 1 cause of pollution from suburban and rural areas in our rivers, and, Rob, the EPA is finally doing something about it.

Rob: So, Courtenay, what are just regular folks, what are they doing in the neighborhoods?

Courtenay: Well, Rob, for example, in Portland, neighborhoods are disconnecting their water downspouts to keep their rivers clean.

Rob: Well, all right, thank you so much Courtenay.