What is stormwater management and why is it important?

Posted June 20, 2019 in Landscape Design, Landscape Maintenance, Water Feature

The phrase “stormwater management” is typically either met with a homeowner’s blank stare or adverse anxious demeanor.  As an outdoor living design/build firm, we deal with stormwater management daily, from working with our trusted soil scientists and engineers to township engineers and our installation experts, we understand the process fully and realize it can be intimidating for some.  On that note, we would like to take a little time in this blog to scratch the surface of stormwater management and why it is important to homeowners, townships and outdoor living projects alike.  Our goal is to provide a little insight so homeowners can feel confident in conversation if they encounter the need for stormwater management on their properties to move forward with an outdoor living project.

What is stormwater management?

What a great place to start.  According to the EPA, stormwater management is the effort to reduce the runoff the rainwater or melted snow into streets, lawns and other sites along with the improvement of water quality.  Normally when stormwater is absorbed by our soils, it is naturally filtered by the earth to replenish our aquifers or it finds its way to our streams and rivers, keeping Pennsylvania fresh and beautiful!  However, when heavy storms come through and the ground becomes oversaturated, we all know that water will go wherever it pleases.  This excess water can carry debris, bacteria, chemicals and other pollutants into our sewer systems, streams, rivers, lakes…etc.

So what does this mean to you?

Great question!  Typically, we don’t think that stormwater runoff is an issue, well, until it becomes a personal issue like flooding or water in our basements.  To prevent residential issues every township, undoubtedly, has their own set of stormwater management required rules and regulations to abide by and practices to implement.  Following these municipal requirements ensures proper water management of each property within the district, keeping our communities, homes and our neighbor’s homes clear and safe when the weather isn’t so pleasant.

How do you know if you need it?

Township guidelines set specific percentages per zoning district and lot, giving the maximum impervious coverage each property can have before they need to manage stormwater.  Manmade impervious areas do not allow stormwater to be absorbed by the soil as it would under natural conditions, creating more runoff.  New outdoor home improvement projects like patios, decks and even sometimes swimming pools may not be deemed permeable, adding impervious coverage to the calculations of a property, which will need to be addressed.

So, going back to the question, how do you know if you need stormwater management?  This is where you will find one of the major benefits of an outdoor living design/build firm.

Design/build firms like MasterPLAN Outdoor Living are invested in your project and your happiness, start to finish, and this means creating and installing outdoor living projects that aren’t just beautiful but code compliant!  In the beginning of our research, we review the ordinance of a client’s township and find the necessary percentages allowable for the property.  These calculations will let us know how much impervious surface we can add before stormwater management will need to come into play.  Once your outdoor living expert has all the facts and figures in place, they can seamlessly add the BMP (best management practice) in your master plan, ready to submit to your township for complete approval.

While some homeowners don’t like to sink money into a management system they will not see, but if the systems weren’t in place they would have bigger issues on their hands (and plus the project would never get past the township permitting process in the first place).

What are the stormwater BMPs?

By definition, BMPs are structural and/or non-structural practices that are considered an effective and practical set of means to prevent or reduce water pollution and aid in instance of flooding.  As mentioned before, each township and municipality has custom tailored regulations for their different zoning districts, some allow certain BMPs while others do not.  Luckily, there are a few stormwater management systems options to ensure you are able to construct your dream backyard transformation!  Let’s touch upon two of the most common BMPs…

Permeable Hardscape

By providing manufacturer specifications of installation for review, municipal code officials will make the determination if permeable paving systems are recognized as an acceptable BMP.  Peremable pavers provide stormwater management by reducing water runoff volume and rate, filtering pollutants and allowing the water on site to permeate back into the earth.  The secret of a permeable hardscape lies in the joints between the pavers.  The sand or stone installed will allow the water to pass through, which is filtered by the aggregate base underneath the pavers themselves.  These systems are truly key players in low-impact development and sustainability!

Dry Well

If permeable hardscapes are not recognized by your local authority, you may need to explore the option of installing a dry well.  While a fine detail, calculations tests and reports are needed to design an acceptable dry well, it is easier to explain in theory.  A dry well is an excavated pit that is filled with stone that will temporarily store directed stormwater runoff until it is absorbed by the surrounding soil.  Depending on how much square footage of a proposed outdoor living project needs to be managed will determine what outdoor features this pit will host.  Whether a dry well will aid in infiltration of runoff from the primary home’s roof, a patio or deck roof or a patio itself, the water will be directed to the pit to be handled.  Dry wells very successfully protect a homeowner’s property and also assist in taking the load off of the community’s sewer system.


While permeable hardscapes and dry wells are the most common BMPs for stormwater management, we have encountered a few townships that accept uncommon methods.  A few interesting approaches to stormwater management can include installing rain barrels to capture the runoff from a home’s roof and accessory buildings like sheds and pool houses, designing and installing rain gardens and stone river beds or planting X-amount of trees on your property to offset the proposed disturbed square footage.

Researching a township’s ordinance and consulting with the building/zoning officials is vital in fully understanding the requirements set forth by the governing body.  Along with inquiring about the setback requirements for a particular property, impervious surface regulations are one of the first recorded pieces of information in the MasterPLAN office.  If stormwater management will need to come into play, we want to know this at the beginning of a project so we can talk with our clients and find the proper solution to move forward with designing and installing their dream outdoor living spaces!

Serving the Poconos, Lehigh Valley though the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey, MasterPLAN Outdoor Living would love to be the outdoor design/build firm you count on in the journey of your very own backyard transformation!  Partnering with our clients, we aim to listen as much as we aim to educate.  Together, we can formulate a solid master plan for your backyard that we can tackle all at once or in phases.  If you would like to open a conversation about exploring all options for your outdoor living space, reach out to MasterPLAN, we would love to welcome you into the family!

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