Minimizing urban runoff

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — Many of the problems regarding nutrients, sediments and harmful bacteria in South Dakota’s water begin with runoff from urban landscapes.

“Although runoff from agricultural lands in South Dakota have the largest impact on water quality, urban landscapes also play a large role in water quality due to the amount of impervious surfaces in urban areas,” said Daniel Ostrem, SDSU Extension Water Resource Field Specialist.

Impervious surfaces, such as roofs, parking lots, roads and driveways, keep water from infiltrating into the soil, Ostrem explained. To help prevent polluted water from entering streams and waterways, cities invest in stormwater collection systems.

Do your part

Property owners can also voluntarily help minimize stormwater development costs and reduce pollutant-loading South Dakota’s water resources. Ostrem referenced rain gardens and bioswales as two landscaping tools that help reduce the effects of stormwater from the urban landscape. “These tools slow down runoff, allowing more time for water infiltration into the soil,” he said.

These techniques work by lengthening the water flow path and roughening the drainage surface with vegetation, mulch or rock.

He added that a rain barrel is also an easy way for homeowners to store high quality rainwater from their home’s roof and apply it to their lawn or garden at a later time after the soils have had time to dry out.

“Rain barrels are fairly simple to build for a person with a motivated “do it yourself” personality. They can also be purchased as a kit where the only work needed is the installation underneath a downspout,” Ostrem said.

These kits can be found at many home and garden stores.

Porous options

Another way to limit the volume of water in runoff is to minimize the amount of impervious surfaces.

Paved driveways can cover a large area and typically drain all rainfall directly into the street. To increase water infiltration, some property owners have opted for more porous options, such as pavers, which allow water to fall through the surface. Other pervious surface options include: pervious concrete, patio pavers and open cell concrete or plastic pavers.

“Many people find these options aesthetically pleasing in their landscaping and can even lessen the amount of ice on the drive during the winter months,” he said.

To learn more, visit