Introduction to Stormwater
The concern for storm water runoff is increasingly becoming more serious as our county grows in population. Not considered a farming community, Gaston County is progressively being urbanized. The conversion of our land from rural to developed generates large volumes of storm water runoff. Storm water originates from rainfall or snowmelt that enters natural and man made drainage systems. These storm systems do not receive any treatment before entering the waters of our streams and lakes. More than just occurrences of flooding, storm water carries pollutants such as sediment, nutrients and bacteria, affecting our lakes and streams. This in turn affects the quality of our drinking water, and thereof each resident of the county. We are very fortunate that the state of North Carolina has commissioned Gaston County Natural Resources to assist and educate the citizens of Gaston County in the management of storm water.
Problems Associated with Storm Water
Many problems associated with storm water can be minimized or eliminated with careful, precise, planning and preparation. As runoff travels over land it captures and transports a variety of pollutants lying on the ground. Common types of pollutants are:
- Fecal Coli form Bacteria
- Organic Materials
- Oil and Grease
- Pesticides and Herbicides
- Sediment is the number one pollutant affecting water in Gaston County. Sediment fills in reservoirs, degrades habitats, increases water treatment costs, and helps in transporting other pollutants into lakes and streams. Major sources of sediment are construction and agriculture. Both of these industries are active in Gaston County.
- Nutrients include nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilization of crops, lawns and other plant life. Excessive amounts of nutrients flowing into our waters cause algal blooms and will produce unpleasant odor, and taste in the sources of our drinking water, fish kills, mosquito infestation, and numerous other problems.
- Fecal Coli form Bacteria is found in the waste by- products of warm blooded animals and birds. These bacteria are used as indicators of the potential presence of disease causing bacteria, viruses and other microbes that affect humans and other animals, both domestic and in the wild. Waste products are caught in storm water runoff and end up in our waters used for recreation and consumption. Mismanagement of water fowl habitats creates a surplus of excrement found in lakes and streams.
- Sources include malfunctioning waste water treatment plants, leaking sewer lines, failing septic systems, livestock operations, wild life, pets, and inadequate pumping facilities at recreation sites.
- Metals are toxic to many aquatic organisms. Because metals accumulate in the tissues of aquatic life, humans who eat fish and shellfish are subjected to this toxicity. Sources of metals include automobile emissions, paints, roofing materials, motor oils, spills from industrial sites, and natural weathering of rocks.
- Organic matter is made of leaves, grass clippings, leftover foods, decaying plant life, and animal wastes. These products use oxygen during their decomposition process. High amounts of organic matter washed into our lakes and streams can contribute to low oxygen levels which is unsuitable for aquatic life, resulting in massive kills.
- Oil and grease affect aquatic life by bonding with sediment and settling on the bottom of our waters producing toxicity to plant and animal life or floating on top and cutting off oxygen supplies to plant and animal life. Sources of this pollutant include runoff from driveways, roads, parking lots, gas stations, freight operations, warehouse and storage facilities, and improper disposal of these products by the consumer.
- Pesticides and herbicides are man made compounds used to control or kill insects and weeds. These chemicals are generally toxic to aquatic life, causing kills or disease. They may also accumulate in the tissue of fish or shellfish, hence becoming toxic to humans and animals that consume the fish or shellfish. Sources include agriculture, urban development, the week end gardener, and improper disposal of the products and their containers.
- Sediments can be managed by using proper erosion control measures such as silt fences, sediment basins, ground covers, and seeding disturbed land areas as quickly as possible, limiting ground disturbance near lakes and streams, establishing and maintaining riparian buffers, and creating natural buffers.
- Bacteria is managed by proper disposal of pet waste, regular inspection of home septic systems, proper maintenance or waste water treatment plants, and proper conservation practices for livestock excrements.
- To manage metals, automobiles and heavy equipment should be routinely inspected and maintained. The proper disposal of paints, construction materials, and motor oils used at both residential and commercial sites must be facilitated either by local recycling or collection centers.
- Organic Materials should be kept out of street gutters, and away from storm drains.. Dispose of food garbage appropriately. Composting for home gardens is an excellent way to manage organic materials and create a natural fertilizer for plants and vegetables.
- When using herbicides and pesticides, always follow label instructions. Don't apply if rain is expected, creating storm runoff. Properly clean application equipment, not allowing the runoff to enter storm drains or streams. Dispose of empty containers in a designated collection facility. Clean up spills promptly.