Rainwater harvesting can help reduce pollutants

Submitted by Kaitlyn Dibble, landscape designer at Cedar Run Landscapes

The U.S. environmental movement, motivated by concerns of global climate change, has heightened awareness on how individual actions and choices impact the environment and our health. One significant way we impact our surroundings is by how we manage our stormwater.

According to the EPA, non-point source (NPS) pollution is the nation’s largest source of water quality problems. NPS pollution takes place when rainwater or snowmelt flows over impervious surfaces and through the landscape picking up pollutants and depositing them into our streams, lakes, estuaries and oceans.

Some of these NPS pollutants include:

  • Motor vehicle contaminants
  • Lawn and garden pesticides and nutrients
  • Sediment
  • Road salts
  • Thermal pollution from impervious surfaces such as roofs and roadways
  • Heavy metals from homes and vehicles


Homeowners can help reduce NPS pollutants from entering the environment by retaining stormwater on site. Integrating rainwater harvesting systems along with other eco-sensitive landscape techniques will help minimize water pollution.

Rainwater harvesting is the capturing of rainwater from the rooftops as well as the surrounding landscape and diverting it into a storage basin to be used instead of municipal or well water. In the past, these storage basins have been large containers that took up space and added no aesthetic value to the property. The old style systems may also pose their own problems (mosquito infestations, algae growth or poor water quality) if not adequately maintained.

With new and recent innovations, rainwater harvesting cisterns have been coupled with decorative water features, rain gardens and constructed wetland filters to create a system that circulates water, filters pollutants and attracts wild life. These systems look similar to ordinary water features. The cistern is now hidden below ground, but has the added benefit of retaining rainwater to be used when needed.

Unlike traditional harvesting systems, there is continuous movement of water and the natural wetland filtration keeps the water clean and fresh all year long. The harvested water can be used for all non-potable uses, lowering monthly water bills and reducing NPS pollution.

Additional benefits of these systems include the therapeutic sounds of water that drown out surrounding neighborhood clamor, producing a soothing place for family and friends to relax and enjoy time together.

Water also attracts wildlife. When these systems incorporate native planted rain gardens to capture any overflow, a natural playground is created. The native rain garden and wetland plantings will attract all types of birds, butterflies, and amphibians. This natural habitat will entertain and educate children on the wonders of the nature world.

In addition to rainwater harvesting systems, limiting impermeable surfaces can also be useful in improving water quality. Permeable walkways, patios and driveways are engineered to allow rain water to flow through the spaces between the hardscape materials and percolate into ground instead of flowing into the sewer system. There are a variety of material choices available including natural looking fieldstone, porous pavement and permeable pavers.

By utilizing a combination of these techniques, a property owner will be able to capture and use rainwater, clean and infiltrate excess water and provide wildlife habitat. By reducing stormwater that flows off a property through capturing, filtering, reusing and infiltrating rainwater on site, individuals will add a valuable asset to their home while doing their part to protect our watershed.

Dibble is a designer at Cedar Run Landscapes. Graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in landscape architecture in 2009, Kaitlyn began working for Cedar Run Landscapes in January of 2010. Cedar Run Landscapes, located in North Wales, Pa., has been in business for more than 30 years and is a certified aquascape contractor and member of the EP Henry Contractor Select Program.

As of Oct. 14, 2011, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check AngiesList.com for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.


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