Stormwater Management Overview
The development of vacant land and the expansion of existing buildings helps to fuel the economic engine of a community. However, when development occurs, natural areas are covered with impervious surfaces, preventing stormwater from soaking into the ground.
The creation of impervious surfaces that accompanies urbanization significantly affects how water moves above and below ground during storms. These impervious surfaces impact the quality of stormwater, and the condition of our streams and lakes. Stormwater pollution is rapidly growing in importance as a national environmental issue.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stormwater is the leading cause of water pollution in the nation. Stormwater pollution occurs when rain flows over streets and picks up trash, oil, dirt, and other pollutants as it travels. These pollutants are carried to the storm drainage system, which drains directly into our local creeks, untreated. The good news is we can do a lot to prevent water pollution by making small changes in our everyday lives. The City of Hutto is committed to promoting behavior change through increased public awareness of local water quality problems associated with stormwater runoff. We accomplish this by creating educational materials, and conducting outreach.
The storm drainage system is designed to convey rainwater to our local water bodies. In order to prevent stormwater pollution, residents and businesses must be aware of what should or should not be put into the storm drain system.
An effective way to manage stormwater pollution is through the use of pollution control measures, often called Best Management Practices (BMPs). BMPs can be structural (such as roofing or diversion ditches) or non-structural (such as education or training).
There are opportunities for everyone living in the City of Hutto to help protect the quality of water resources. Even very simple changes in how the landscaping is maintained, pet waste and ordinary household hazardous waste are disposed of, and how septic systems are maintained, make a difference downstream from a homeowner’s property. Ideas presented in this chapter implemented at the neighborhood scale, such as installing rain barrels or a small cistern to capture rain water and using it to irrigate lawns or gardens, can have beneficial effects on managing stormwater volumes.
Getting started with water-smart landscaping can be as simple as applying mulch and compost. Using these readily available natural materials can help improve plant health, as well as the health of local creeks. The following tips can be helpful.
Water-Smart Landscaping Tips
Nurture the Soil
Developing and maintaining healthy soil is an important part of reducing or eliminating the need for quick release fertilizers and pesticides.
The practices listed below help protect and improve the soil:
- Cover exposed soil with plants or mulch
- Fertilize with compost
- Never mow more than one-third of the grass height
Select the Right Plants
In addition to nurturing the soil, proper plant selection can reduce the need for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
The following practices can help with successful plant selection:
- Landscape using native plants
- Lists of plants suitable for local conditions, such as the following, should be consulted: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Recommended Species Collections, includes species recommended for South Texas
- Choose the right turf grass to reduce fertilizer and water needs
- Plan for Growth, newly planted shrubs and perennials will need room to grow
Reduce Irrigation Use
Irrigation requirements can be reduced by selecting plants adapted to the local climate, as described above. The following additional tips can help reduce the use of potable water for irrigation, and avoid overwatering that can result in runoff flowing from saturated landscapes:
- Avoid water runoff from sprinklers and irrigation systems
- Irrigation overspray onto pavement can carry pollutants to creeks
- Use efficient Irrigation to reduce overspray, evaporation, and runoff
Use Integrated Pest Management
Pest problems can be minimized by following the tips provided above for nurturing the soil, choosing the right plants, and providing sufficient irrigation to reduce stress on the plants and enhance their resiliency against pests and disease. When infestations occur, the recommended integrated pest management (IPM) approaches that should be followed are:
- Encourage beneficial insects
- Reduce or eliminate fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides
Disposal of Household Hazardous Waste
Some consumer products contain chemicals that can present safety concerns if used or disposed of improperly. These materials are often called household hazardous waste and may include items such as:
- Corrosive cleaners (such as lye-based oven cleaner)
- Drain cleaner
- Fluorescent light bulbs (including CFLs)
- Fuels (gasoline, propane, diesel)
- Paints (oil-based or some anti-mildew latex)
- Pool chlorine and acid
- Wood stains or varnishes
These materials should never be poured down the drain or disposed on the ground or in the storm drain system. If they are generated by a household, they are not required to be disposed as hazardous waste, and many can be placed in your regular trash. However, because these materials contain toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients, local governments may offer opportunities to dispose of these items in a more protective manner.
Many towns and cities in Texas have designated facilities where residents can drop off hazardous waste items and others may hold monthly or seasonal collection events. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) maintains a list of ongoing household hazardous waste disposal facilities and programs, as well as individually scheduled events that are posted on the agency’s Household Hazardous Waste webpage.
For the protection of homeowners and workers who collect hazardous waste, the following guidance and tips are provided regarding storage, transportation, and care:
- Products should be kept in their original container and labels should be readable. This ensures that household hazardous waste can be easily identified
- Chemicals should be stored and transported in an upright position to avoid leaking, which could result in the mixing of incompatible chemicals
- Products should never be mixed together, which can result in dangerous, even deadly, fumes
- Chemicals should be kept in a cool, dry place out of the reach of children and pets
Non-Hazardous Items That May Be Collected with Household Hazardous Waste
Many programs that collect household hazardous waste will also accept other common nonhazardous household material that can be recycled or offered to others in the community for reuse. These may include new or used:
- Motor oil or oil filters
- Non-hazardous latex paint
Items Exempt from Statewide Household Hazardous Waste Programs
Collections of any combination of batteries, used oil, latex paint, or antifreeze are exempt from requirements of the TCEQ’s household hazardous waste program because these materials generally do not present substantial hazards.
Septic systems are common In Hutto and the ETJ, where many residential properties are not served by centralized sewer systems. These underground wastewater treatment structures use a combination of nature and time-tested technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing, removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients in the wastewater. These systems require a regular program of maintenance to function properly.
The system consists of a buried, water-tight septic tank and a drain field, or soil absorption field.
Benefits of Properly Maintaining a Septic System
Septic systems can be "out of sight, out of mind," but there are several reasons that maintaining a septic system is an important priority: cost savings, protecting property value, staying healthy, and protecting the environment. Regular maintenance is generally less expensive than the cost of repairing or replacing a malfunctioning system, and an unmaintained septic system will lower property value. Additionally, insufficiently treated sewage from septic systems can cause surface and groundwater contamination, affecting people and the surrounding environment.
How to Maintain a Septic System
To avoid costly system failures and establish a routine schedule of septic system maintenance, use a licensed maintenance provider for regular and standard inspections. TCEQ maintains an online listing, by county, of local government contacts for information regarding any local septic system requirements. Access to this list is at https://www6.tceq.texas.gov/oars/. Pumping is required if the bottom of the scum layer is within 6 inches of the bottom of the outlet, or if the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet. It is generally required every three to five years, but the need for pumping will be influenced by the size of the household, total wastewater generated, the volume of solids in water, and the size of the septic tank.
Signs of Septic System Failure
A foul odor isn’t always the first sign of a malfunctioning septic system. A septic professional should be contacted if any of the following occur:
- Wastewater backing up into household drains
- Bright green, spongy grass on the drain field, even during dry weather
- Pooling water or muddy soil around the septic system or in the basement
- A strong odor around the septic tank and drain field
Disposal of Animal Waste
Pet waste is a water quality problem for creeks, rivers, and lakes. Microbial tracking studies performed on various watersheds in Texas found that domestic animals were the source contributor for 14 to 55% of the bacteria detected at sampling stations. Waste from domestic animals that is left on trails, sidewalks, streets, and grassy areas can be washed into the nearest waterway when it rains, which contributes to the following water quality problems:
- Bacteria and viruses: Human waste, animal waste may contain harmful bacteria and viruses, making the water unfit for irrigation, recreation, or other uses
- Excessive nutrients: Animal waste contains nutrients which, in excessive amounts, speed up the growth of nuisance weeds and algae in receiving water bodies
- Overly fertile water becomes cloudy and green, unattractive for swimming, boating, and fishing
- Low oxygen levels: When animal waste is washed into lakes or streams, the waste decays, using up the dissolved oxygen in the water, and sometimes releasing ammonia
- Low oxygen levels and ammonia combined with warm temperatures can kill fish
Safe Methods of Pet Waste Disposal
The most effective way for pet owners to limit their pet’s contribution to water pollution is to simply clean up and dispose of pet waste. Remember the following safe methods for pet waste disposal:
- Flushing: As long as the droppings are not mixed with other materials, pet waste should be flushed down the toilet. This allows it to be properly treated by a community sewage plant or septic system. Pet owners should use plastic bags to pick up after their pet.
- Tossing: Pet waste can be sealed in a plastic bag and put into the garbage if local law allows it. This is good for water quality health, as well as the health of humans (especially children) and pets.
- Burying: Pet waste can be buried, if allowed by local law. Pet waste should be buried in a hole at least 1 foot deep, placing 3 to 4 inches of pet waste at the bottom. A shovel should be used to chop and mix the waste into the soil at the bottom, then covered with at least 8 inches of soil to keep away rodents and pets. Pet waste should only be buried around ornamental plants, and never in vegetable gardens or food-growing locations. Pet waste is not recommended for back yard compost piles because parasites carried in dog and cat feces can cause diseases in humans.
Other Water-Smart Pet Care Tips
The following practices will help pets be part of the solution to water pollution:
- Keep pets away from streams, ponds, or lakes
- Keep pet waste off of sidewalks and streets
- Use the
Long Grass Principle, long grass (about 6 inches high or taller) helps filter pollutants so the waste can decompose naturally with minimal pollution of runoff
Managing Waste from Larger Animals
Many of the practices listed above also apply to other domestic animals such as horses, cattle, swine, poultry, goats, or donkeys that may be kept on large residential or rural properties around Hutto. An animal waste management program to protect water quality would generally also include the following:
- Correct Siting and Design: Keep as much filtering vegetation as possible between livestock barns, corrals, etc., and any water body
- High-use areas should be away from creeks and other water bodies
- Collection and Storage: Manure and soiled bedding should be collected from stalls and paddocks daily and placed in temporary long-term storage protected from rainfall and runoff
- Disposal and Use: Manure may be collected and applied to cropland or pasture as fertilizer. Two to three weeks should pass before allowing livestock on the pasture
Rain barrels and cisterns can be installed to capture stormwater runoff from rooftops and stored for later use. These are low-cost systems that allow homeowners to supplement the water supply with a sustainable source and help preserve local watersheds by detaining rainfall. Collected rainwater may be used for landscape irrigation. Capturing even a small amount of roof runoff has environmental benefits because it reduces the quantity of stormwater runoff flowing to local creeks. Rain barrels typically store between 50 and 200 gallons. They require very little space and can be connected or daisy chained to increase total storage capacity.
Cisterns are larger storage containers that can store 200 to over 10,000 gallons. These come in many shapes, sizes, and materials, and can be installed underground to save space.
Feasibility of Rain Barrels or Cisterns
Rain barrels and cisterns are appropriate for properties with the following characteristics:
- Roof areas that drain to downspouts
- A level, firm surface to support a rain barrel or cistern to prevent shifting or falling over
- A full 55 gallon rain barrel will weigh over 400 pounds
- A landscaped area where the captured water can be used (and where it can be drained by gravity flow) should be located within a reasonable distance from the rain barrels
- A landscaped area or safe path to the storm drain system that can handle overflow
Roofing Material Considerations
Surface materials on the area from which rainwater will be collected affect the quality of captured rainwater, which has implications for the recommended uses. If the roof has asphalt or wooden shingles, harvested rainwater should only be used for non-edible landscapes, unless the water is treated first. Petroleum or other chemicals from these roofing materials can leach into the rain water. Roofs with cement, clay, or metal surfaces are ideal for harvesting water for a wide variety of uses.
Gutter & Downspout Considerations
Properly sized and maintained gutters and downspouts are essential to a rainwater harvesting system. New downspouts should be strategically located in an area where the rain barrel or cistern will be most useful. A fine mesh gutter guard on gutters to keep
leaves and other debris from entering and clogging the gutters should be installed, which will reduce the need for cleaning out accumulated sediment.
First Flush Diverters, Filters, Screens & Downspout Consideration
Leaves, twigs, sediment, and animal waste are common in runoff, especially at the beginning of a storm ("first flush"). This debris can result in clogging, and encourages bacterial growth. A first flush diverter helps remove debris and contaminants by directing the first few gallons of runoff from the roof to landscaping, away from the rain barrel or cistern.
Rainwater Harvesting Design
There are a variety of available system designs that provide for water conservation as well as stormwater management. Sources for additional information include:
Operation & Maintenance
After installing a rain barrel or cistern, these tips should be followed for long-term safety and functionality:
- Gutters and gutter guards should be regularly checked to make sure debris is not entering the rainwater harvesting system
- Screens on the rain barrel or cistern should be inspected to make sure debris is not collecting on the surface and that there are no holes allowing mosquitoes to enter the rain barrel. Inspect screens more frequently if there are trees that drop debris on the roof
- The inside of the rain barrel should be cleaned once a year to prevent buildup of debris. If debris cannot be removed by rinsing, vinegar or another nontoxic cleaner should be used
- Clean out debris from cisterns once a year, drain wash water to landscaping
For more information on stormwater management in the City of Hutto, please contact the Engineering Department at 512-759-4016.