San Bernardino County receives an average of 15 inches of rain per year. Due to El Nino this past week the region received 2.5 inches of rain. With the storm only in its early stages, we can expect heavy rains and possible power outages in the next few days.
Aside from the danger and destruction posed by flash floods and mudslides to homes near the San Bernardino Mountains, there are several other concerns that pose long term affects.
Heavy rains increase stormwater runoff. Based on the laws of gravity, once water reaches a solid structure, be it a building, freeway, or sidewalk, it moves downward. As we have seen in the last few days, the force of runoff can overturn cars, trap victims, and destroy homes. On the other hand, we need rain, especially in Southern California where the looming water crisis could have serious development implications in the future. Specifically, one of the most important aspects of rain is infiltration of water through the soil reaching our ground water sources. This helps to replenish our water supply and provide water to over 1.7 million residents in the County, and another 14.5 million residents in the Greater Los Angeles Area.
However, most of San Bernardino County and Southern California is not made up of agricultural fields and open space. Due to urbanization, and the replacement of native vegetation with impervious surfaces, our ground water is not replenished so conveniently by a storm. Instead, we experience flooding, clogged drainage systems, and hazardous driving conditions. Conversely, not every square mile of San Bernardino County and Los Angeles is covered by concrete. There are lawns, community and state parks, small farms, green roofs, and green alleys. The issue is that the open spaces we do have, are only adding to the problem.
Think about your lawns and gardens. Many homeowners use fertilizers and pesticides to grow beautiful green grass and control pests. Farmers also use these products, but on a much larger scale to seed and grow crops. The runoff from these sources often carries excessive amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, ultimately degrading lakes, rivers, and producing algae blooms. In addition, debris, solvents, and pet wastes, are also swept up by stormwater runoff.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are several ways to decrease stormwater runoff beginning with landscaping.
- Permeable pavement allows water to seep through and does not rely on storm drains to divert unwanted water.
- Rain barrels are mosquito proof and collect rain water for landscaping.
- Rain gardens made of native plants provide a diversion for stormwater runoff.
- Vegetation filter strips are native plants near roads to trap stormwater runoff.
Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t stop there. Now picture our streets, freeways, and parking lots. These impervious surfaces collect grease and oil from autos and diesel trucks. During heavy rains these pollutants are released along with partially burned fuels, which are potentially carcinogenic. In addition, heavy metals such as zinc, chrome, and nickel from brakes, mix to produce highly toxic runoff.
Taking precautionary measures before heavy rains will help to decrease stormwater runoff and protect our water quality.
For more info: visit the U.S. Geological Survey