City Helps Residents Harvest the Rain
Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight Feature
The City of Raleigh wants to tame the rain.
Specifically, the City wants to reduce the harm that comes when rain drains off surfaces and becomes “stormwater.” After a downpour in urban areas, with the abundance of concrete and other hard surfaces, stormwater has to go somewhere. It gushes untreated into storm drains and picks up contaminants in the process.
“Many downspouts go directly to the street, and then that runoff goes into storm drains, which flows to creeks and rivers, without treatment,” said Kevin Boyer, the City’s Stormwater Quality Manager.
Fortunately, there are tools to slow down, filter and store rain and stormwater. And the City’s Stormwater Management Division will help residents pay for them.
The City is willing to reimburse Raleigh residents who install cisterns, rain gardens, green roofs and other tools that treat stormwater through its Stormwater Quality Cost Share Program. These devices capture stormwater and turn it into a resource instead of a nuisance.
Any property owner can apply to be reimbursed for 75 percent of the cost of installing a treatment device. For properties in a sensitive watershed the reimbursement rate is 90 percent.
Joe Kwon, cello player for the Avett Brothers, is a resident of downtown Raleigh. He and his wife Emily Meineke took advantage of the cost share program when they built their home in 2014.
“My wife is an ecologist, and in order to convince her to build the house we had to make it as eco-friendly as possible,” he said.
Kwon and Meineke live near Pigeon House Branch, one of the most distressed streams in Raleigh. They wanted to make sure the stormwater draining off their property didn’t make the stream worse.
So, with help from the City, they installed permeable pavers and a 1,600-gallon cistern. Stormwater filters through the pavers into the ground, lessening runoff from their lot and providing surrounding landscaping with all the water it needs without additional irrigation. Kwon and Meineke also use water from their cistern for their toilets and laundry machine.
“The difference is huge,” said Kwon, “It’s so cool to see the water hit our property and then stop.”
The program has helped fund 21 stormwater quality projects since it began in 2009, and the City is encouraging more applications from interested citizens. It has an annual budget of $250,000, funded through the stormwater fees that Raleigh residents pay.
It’s an important program. As Raleigh grows, forested areas are replaced with hard surfaces such as rooftops, parking lots and sidewalks. Growth can have positives for Raleigh, but the increase in impermeable surfaces can make storm events more chaotic.
After a heavy rainstorm, hard surfaces deflect rainwater. Rain can’t penetrate these surfaces, so it rushes to drainage pipes, often eroding landscapes in the process and eventually damaging stream health. Stormwater can overwhelm the capacity of drainage pipes, which can overflow or break during storm events.
The City is mandated by the state to protect the Neuse River and other critical streams in Raleigh, and the cost share program is just one of their efforts.
“We try to encourage the program without pressuring people,” said Lory Willard, a City engineer who coordinates the cost share program. “Applicants need to want to do this.”
To apply, a property owner contacts City Staff to determine if their property is suitable for a stormwater treatment device. The property owner then submits a four-page application with a proposed budget. City Staff review the application and send it on to be approved by the Stormwater Management Advisory Commission and City Council.
Although Kwon appreciated the funding and technical assistance from the City, he emphasized to expect that the process takes time, and maintenance after installation. “You have to do your research,” he said, “But it’s worth it. This is an investment for us.”
The City's website explains how to participate in the program and lists completed projects to date.
This Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight is one in a series of City of Raleigh sustainability stories.