In recent years, Hamilton has experienced serious problems related to stormwater and runoff including environmental and water quality degradation, threats to human health and safety, and millions of dollars in property damage. Many homeowners have experienced flooding in their homes and/or on their properties. As our city grows, there are fewer natural areas to absorb and filter rainwater. With heavier rainfall events, in areas of Hamilton with combined sewers, stormwater runoff is mixed with overloaded sewage systems and this polluted runoff may be released untreated into Hamilton Harbour. In other parts of Hamilton, the water that flows into the sewer grate on your street may not receive any treatment or filtration at all before entering a stream or lake and all those polluting materials in our urban environment, including motor oil, anti-freeze, tire residue, pet waste, and cigarette butts, get washed into our creeks and ultimately, Lake Ontario.
What needs to be part of the solution? Green Infrastructure!
Green Infrastructure is a method for addressing stormwater runoff in a way that mimics the natural water cycle by managing rain close to where it falls by capturing it, infiltrating it through soils, and evaporating it through plants.
Who can implement it?
Homeowners have the ability to take action and implement Green Infrastructure on their own properties. At Green Venture, we have been doing rainwater runoff diversion work for 15 years (like helping homeowners create rain gardens, install rain barrels, depave impermeable spaces). Currently, our Catch the Rain pilot program in Dundas is providing subsidized consultations with a ‘RAIN coach’ that helps homeowners consider green landscaping opportunities for reducing stormwater runoff. But this is not enough- we need to take action as a city!
We need incentives and support to implement a new approach to stormwater!
The City of Hamilton recently passed a motion put forth by Councillor Danko to review a Stormwater Rate Program. The goals are to review the current stormwater charges to fully fund the increasing stormwater management demand while decreasing the impact on Hamilton’s water bodies. Currently, stormwater rates for homeowners are based on water usage or volume consumed each month (check your Alectra ~ formerly Horizon Utilities bill), and businesses pay fixed monthly charges based on the size of their water meter along with a volumetric charge.
While there are plans to increase the capacity of local wastewater treatment facilities to avoid sewer overflows, the current stormwater fee program doesn’t match the costs that the city is incurring. This will only worsen as we continue to experience more extreme precipitation events. The city plans to research how other community stormwater rate program models can help the city formulate a plan for implementing an updated program.
Stormwater Rate Program implementation varies in different communities but generally the aim is to:
- Match stormwater rates to the size of the impervious area of a property and provide an incentive for property owners to reduce their runoff.
- Create a fair way of paying for grey infrastructure upgrades.
- Provide a source of funding for new green infrastructure and
supporting lot-level action.
How effective can Green Infrastructure be?
Rain gardens, a great example of Green Infrastructure, can be very beneficial for helping property owners to divert stormwater, although it is tricky to measure just how impactful they can be. Our RAIN coach, Michael, calculated for us how much runoff there actually is from a home, using an example of a raised bungalow in East Hamilton with a roof area of 125 square meters:
- First, 1 square meter of hard surface produces 1 litre of runoff for every 1 mm of precipitation
- This means a 1 mm rain produces 125 litres of runoff from the roof- which doesn’t seem like much, but keep in mind there’s other roofs contributing, along with runoff from hard surfaces like driveways
- A 5 mm rain creates 625 litres coming off the roof- so this number increases fast!
- The annual average precipitation in Hamilton (based on Environment Canada data) is 910 mm of precipitation per year, which amounts to 113,750 litres of runoff from one small roof alone in one year.
- If there’s 200 houses in this East Hamilton neighbourhood, this number becomes about 23 million litres of runoff per year from just the roofs in this SINGLE neighbourhood!
- This amount of stormwater runoff would fill up 9 Olympic sized swimming pools in just one year!
Surprised? This is why we need to implement Green Infrastructure!
You can protect your property by using rain as a resource to help reduce polluted runoff and risk of flooding on your property by taking actions such as creating a rain garden. Rain gardens are designed to allow rain to soak into the ground, filter out pollutants, and provide an attractive and biodiversity-filled garden for you and wildlife to enjoy!