When it rains, it pours. That’s how it’s been this summer in my part of the country.

There’s so much of it, it comes sheeting off my roof, gurgling down the eavestroughs, and splish-splashing into my water barrel, which fills quickly and then overflows out onto the walk. And water, if left unsupervised, can cause a lot of damage.

Erosion of slopes, ruts, driveway pavers loosened and undermined. Gravel washed away. And water seeping into the basement doesn’t help things either.

That doesn’t even take into consideration the larger environmental damage caused by intensive bursts of dirty urban runoff. It courses down paved streets and concrete sidewalks, picking up oil, litter and dog waste along the way, coalescing quickly into a torrent, and ultimately overwhelming sewers and urban water treatment capacities.

And when the urban sewage and storm water system is inundated with more water than it can handle, storm water can mix with sewage underneath the older parts of the city, and the mess can and often does end up in lakes, river and oceans.

So, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it really does make sense to reduce the amount of water that flows into city sewers.

But how might the average urban dweller do this? For one, by naturalizing the urban space. That way, water that falls can actually be absorbed by the earth in your little space, rather than rushing down various impermeable urban surfaces, such as concrete and pavement.

When you naturalize, you are trying to recreate the natural system that softens the effects of intense rainfall. This means you want to mimic a forest where the rain filters through the canopy created by tall trees, falling much more gently and gradually onto the bushes and younger trees below. Then, it is absorbed slowly into the soil through the network of low-growing vegetation.

Of course, you live in an urban environment, not a forest, but here are some ways to mimic it.

• Minimize impermeable surfacing: Use eco-friendly pavers or wooden or recycled material decking that allows water to drain through instead of running off. Or, rather than paving over the whole driveway, consider the old-fashioned two-track method with vegetation in the middle. Or make sidewalks narrower if you are redoing them.

• Planting: When you plant, use a tri-level canopy approach, if possible, to soften rainfall and allow gradual absorption of water.

• Soil: If you’ve got soil with a high clay content, augment it with sand and organic material. Well-balanced soils absorb water much more readily than clay-rich soils, which drain water very slowly.

• Eaves: Disconnect your eavestrough to reduce water going into city sewers as runoff.

• Rain Barrels: To handle excessive water flow from an eavestrough, consider a rain barrel or cistern for watering at dryer times

• Runoff: For runoff that must drain onto your property, consider a rain garden, which is a garden specially designed to accept, infiltrate and clean water storm water, or a vegetated swale or ditch meant to help absorb and filter runoff. Infiltration trenches or soak-away pits lined with a foot or so of gravel can also help.

• Plants: Use native plants wherever possible, since exotic plants usually require more care, more water and possibly, more chemical first aid.

• Chemicals: Minimize chemicals, such as salt, de-icers, oil, fertilizer and pesticides on the land you manage because it will pollute runoff. Fix auto leaks and wash your car at a car wash rather than on the street.

• Green roof:
Consider the idea of a green roof to minimize the flow of water off your roof or the roof of a shed.

• Last but not least, use less water every day

It’s all in the lawncare

• Grass is not considered to be “naturalized” because it usually requires a lot of water, but if you must have a lawn, opt for natural lawncare. That means aerate, leave mulched grass clippings on the lawn, cut grass higher, at 7.5 centimetres (three inches) or so, and water only once a week, about 2.5 cm (one inch) of water, if needed. If it has rained for an hour or more in the last week, there is no need to water.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; sputz@arrestingdesign.com.

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