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Mitigating Negative Stormwater Impacts on Drinking Water Quality - New England

Grace Dittrich | Contributing Writer

Rachel Hora | Contributing Writer

Stormwater runoff is to be anticipated following any heavy rain or melting snow as the immediate excess of liquid rushes into a flood or major runoff. In the summer of 2023, New England experienced several heavy rain events that produced heavy stormwater runoff. Typically, in more urbanized areas, stormwater has fewer places to travel, as the water cannot seep into impervious surfaces such as asphalt and concrete. In areas lacking soil to offer an absorption site for stormwater, the water runs along roads, sidewalks and other surfaces collecting pollutants and harmful chemicals. These contaminants then make their way into reservoirs and groundwater wells. Although weather patterns are beyond any individual’s control, strategies can be used to lessen the impacts of stormwater contamination in drinking water.

New England experienced heavy rainfall in 2023 and more specifically, Bradley International Airport recorded its third wettest year on record in Hartford, CT. Severe urban flooding occurred following several major precipitation events between the months of July and September. A more distinct event was the flooding in Vermont on July 10th –11th due to heavy rainfall. This resulted in stormwater flooding roads, neighborhoods and farmland sparking a concern regarding drinking water being contaminated.

Various dangers arise regarding stormwater contaminating drinking water as stormwater can collect vast amounts of bacteria, pollutants, and sediment. Waterborne pathogens can accumulate and contaminate drinking water, threatening gastrointestinal illnesses amongst the public. Hazardous levels of zinc, copper, and lead can occur due to influxes in stormwater contamination; these chemicals can negatively impact the human endocrine system resulting in hormone imbalances. Sediment collection in stormwater can also harm drinking water quality through an influx of nutrients and chemicals by influencing the pH and alkalinity levels as well as altering the overall taste of the water.

While weather patterns are uncontrollable, there are mitigations that can be put into place that home and business owners can do to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. It is crucial that homeowners properly store hazardous materials such as gasoline for a lawnmower, cans of paint and pesticides. The EPA recommends storing such materials in places resistant to flooding, certain spaces could include a high shelf in a basement or garage; Make sure to clean up any spills! It's important to never dispose of bathwater, pool water, or washing water in a storm drain. Proper disposal of gray water (dirty or used water) can help reduce the number of bacteria and human waste in stormwater runoff. At home individuals can reduce stormwater pollution by possibly replacing a paved driveway with gravel, planting a rain garden in a low-lying area on a plot of property. Plants like bee balm, butterfly weed, and cardinal flower will help filter stormwater runoff that collects in the rain garden. Getting involved in a local wetlands protection initiative can support the health of wetlands, as they are naturally filtering systems in which drinking water is drawn from.

Stormwater can pose various threats to public and environmental health due to its collection of pollutants and chemicals, however there are many options to mitigate the impact stormwater has on drinking water quality.


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