To find out even more, register now for our upcoming public education class,
Case Studies in Stormwater Management, to be presented via Zoom on Friday, November 10 at 10:00 a.m. EST.
This is part 2 of a 3-part series on stormwater management approaches encouraged by local governments in Arlington and Alexandria. Part 1 addressed solutions that Extension Master Gardeners living in the City of Alexandria devised to meet City standards resulting in lower stormwater utility fees. Parts 2 and 3 present comparable information for Arlington County.
By Elaine Mills, Extension Master Gardener
Photos by Elaine Mills
While the City of Alexandria has had a program of adjusted stormwater utility fees and credits for residential properties since 2018, Arlington County has recently made the decision to discontinue a sanitary district tax based on a property’s real estate assessment. Beginning in 2024, county residents will be charged a Stormwater Utility Fee based on the amount of impervious area (hard surfaces like roofs and driveways) on their property. Homeowners who undertake improvements to reduce stormwater runoff will be able to apply for credit to reduce the amount of their fee, which will be included in their annual real estate bill. Examples of eligible improvements include installation of stormwater-capture features during construction projects, as well as the addition of conservation landscaping, rain gardens, and permeable driveways. These credits will be ongoing, with recertification required periodically. Tree planting will count for annual credit.
In this article, Extension Master Gardeners who are residents of Arlington County share their experiences dealing with stormwater and provide examples of actions taken in their own gardens that could make them eligible for credit on this utility bill.
Carolyn, a North Arlington resident who works in the field of stormwater management, has general words of advice for homeowners.
- Make your house no larger than you need and recognize that additions or complete reconstruction will have consequences due to increased roof surfaces.
- Start by looking at all downspouts, as they are the major source of water that will need to be redirected. Then look at other sources of water (street, neighbors’ yards, etc.).
- There may be a variety of best practices to choose from. You need to use observation and logic before selecting which one(s) may be most effective.
- Cooperate with neighbors and be aware of the effect that water from your yard may have on them.
Note: Click on images to see enlarged photos, captions, and photo attributions.
On a mobile phone, click on the information symbol (circle with a letter ℹ︎ symbol).
On her own property, Carolyn has made use of several management strategies.
- She uses a rain barrel to collect water from a downspout at the front of the house. Her original plan was to have the overflow from the unit pass through an underground pipe to the adjacent driveway, but the force of the water flow caused the pipe to detach. Now, water simply flows over top of the rain barrel onto the driveway. She advises that while rain barrels have educational value as a “gateway” stormwater strategy, they can’t really accommodate great quantities of water coming from a roof.
- Carolyn’s permeable driveway was installed with a grant through a county program. She comments that such driveways have great absorption, but they are expensive, requiring a 12-inch bed of gravel. She alerts homeowners to the need to maintain them due to debris that accumulates, affecting permeability; seedlings that may grow in the gravel between the pavers; or root systems that may invade from neighboring trees. The county can assess a fine if inspections show that a driveway is not maintained properly.
- Additional features on Carolyn’s property include a rain chain that directs water from a small back roof onto a path that serves as a dry creek bed and a dry well (hole lined with gravel) that collects water from a second downspout at the front of the house. This area is surrounded by water-loving plant species. She has also created stone-lined gravel paths for safe movement in her sloping backyard.
Consult the county’s guidelines first!
Another Extension Master Gardener, who recently rebuilt her home in North Arlington, urges residents to consult the county’s guidelines on land disturbance for any required permits before considering any major building projects. She had two goals in reconstructing her house on a very hilly property: to help solve the problem of runoff onto neighbors’ yards downhill and to capture rainwater for watering vegetables, which is better than using municipal water with added chlorine.
- Her complex system involves harvesting rainwater from the flat roof of her detached garage. Downspouts send water through underground pipes to a vortex filter, which removes leaves and particulate matter, and then into two large, linked cisterns buried 2 ½ feet underground in her sizable backyard. The tanks measure 4.5’ x 13’ x 8’ each, with a total storage capacity of 5,000 gallons.
- A smoothing inlet allows the water to enter the cisterns in a controlled manner. They are also equipped with overflow and backflow protection.
- A pressure tank inside the garage keeps the pump for the cisterns from running constantly, and a meter shows how full they are. Water can be directed to a drip irrigation system for a series of raised vegetable planters designed by an edible landscaping company.
- Another option is to direct the water to a yard hydrant for watering trees at a more distant part of the property.
- Downspouts on the house direct water underground to a county storm sewer to prevent erosion. Straw is also being used as an interim measure to avert water flow to homes on the lower part of the slope until understory trees and perennials can be planted.
Part 3 of this article will cover additional stormwater management strategies by Extension Master Gardeners in Arlington County.