Meeting the challenges of stormwater management

By JOHN JOSE

Visits to my sister’s family in Southeast Pennsylvania always include at least one stop at a nearby state park. My niece and nephew love exploring the trails and woodlands of this patch of public land nestled in the midst of a suburban landscape.

Our wanderings will eventually take us to a small stream that traverses the park. The water is a powerful draw for Austin and Celine, and while they spend hours in their explorations, it is all too clear to me that something has gone very wrong here. This small waterway—once an ecologically rich, clear, cascading stream, and an invaluable resource for residents of surrounding communities—is now a shadow of it’s former self. The amount of water flowing through the stream has been reduced to a trickle, banks are severely eroded and soil sediment smothers the stream bed.

While a number of factors can contribute to such severe stream damage, increasing amounts of stormwater run-off, draining off an increasingly urbanized landscape, often plays a major and very destructive role. As residential and commercial land development replaces agricultural lands and forests with “impervious surfaces” in the form of parking lots, rooftops and roads, both the volume and speed of stormwater running off the land and into streams increases. Often compounding this problem is a lack of planning and municipal ordinances that support incorporation of stormwater management, up front, in the beginning phases of development projects.

What does all this have to do with us, the residents of the Delaware Highlands region? Well, quite a lot. As we are confronted with increasing land development pressures, it is not inconceivable, if we are not careful, that a similar scenario could unfold here.

Citizens, working in cooperation with local officials, have an excellent opportunity to take the initiative to plan for and create communities that provide for the protection of our shared water resources. And stormwater management will be an essential component of any such efforts.

Increasingly, local officials, recognizing the need to change the way stormwater management has traditionally been approached, are responding with the enactment of updated plans and ordinances. A shining example is the recent adoption, with the overwhelming support of residents, of two complimentary ordinances by Shohola Township officials that provide for the incorporation of conservation design standards into the development of future, residential subdivisions. These standards get to the root of the stormwater problem by conserving forestlands, minimizing the amount of impervious surfaces that are created and moving toward more effective and innovative stormwater management strategies.

Whether we are compelled by state mandates or simply recognize the need to improve stormwater management—possibly driven by recent, severe flooding events—the time is now to address this critical issue. Unfortunately, for my niece and nephew, it is just a little too late, as those that came before them were not able to fully meet their responsibility as stewards of their community’s water resources.

However, the communities of the Delaware Highlands region needn’t follow the same path. We now have the know-how to plan for and integrate stormwater management into the development of our communities for both our benefit and that of those who will follow after us—future generations who will inherit the land, the water and the legacy of stewardship we leave behind.

(John Jose is the Watershed Specialist for the Pike County Conservation District. He lives in Beach Lake, PA.)

This bi-weekly column is a part of a valley-wide initiative to encourage an engaged citizenry. For a complete archive of visioning statements and for more about the visioning initiative visit upperdelaware.com.