Stormwater runoff is that surge of water that floods our streams and rivers shortly after it rains. Big deal, right? Last I checked it’s been raining for over a billion of years.

Suburban Neighborhood Construction

Add in just one small factor, suburban growth, and stormwater runoff now becomes the fastest-growing source of water pollution. What I initially thought was just a locally polluted river that I was kayaking in turned out to be a complex issue involving a lot of rainwater and plenty of efforts to mitigate its damage.

So what makes suburban stormwater runoff such a complex issue? While we can raise millions of dollars in taxes and use big machines to rebuild our streams to deal with the volume of water, that doesn’t do anything to address one of the major factors behind the problem. We can blame the rain, but frankly, it’s our increasing conversion of forests and fields into streets and neighborhoods that are causing stormwater runoff to be an increasing source of water pollution.

Heavy machinery used to repair banks of stream during a stream restoration project

Sure, people have been moving from the rural parts of our country to the cities at a steady 2% rate. It’s not just the influx of people that are leading that cause the surge of water into our streams and rivers during the rainy season. It’s the fact that we may have legal boundaries to our cities, but when it’s too expensive to live within those boundaries (and for other reasons), we move into the suburbs. And that growth of our suburbs leads to more suburbs. They are growing at a high rate – suburban landmass is growing as high as 15%/year. It’s the high rate of converting that landmass to impermeable surfaces that makes suburban stormwater runoff the fastest-growing source of water pollution.

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