RiverLink and the Power of Many Making Small Improvements - TribPapers

RiverLink and the Power of Many Making Small Improvements

Clogged drains lead to flooding and greater threats to riparian habitats. Photo credit RiverLink.

Asheville – RiverLink sent out a press release announcing that it had “reached the midway point” in its Reduce Rain Runoff campaign. It’s a semi-pseudo event, for sure, but that’s no reason to ignore the helpful messages RiverLink is trying to share.

Founded by the legendary Karen Cragnolin, RiverLink is a nonprofit tasked with looking after the environmental and economic viability of the French Broad River and its watershed. The campaign is dedicated to outreach and education about containing stormwater runoff.

RiverLink's website has instruction booklets for stormwater mitigation strategies. Screenshot.
RiverLink’s website has instruction booklets for stormwater mitigation strategies. Screenshot.

When somebody mentions RiverLink, they might think of river cleanups or tubing with friends, not economic viability. Spokesperson Jessie LaMacchia was asked what RiverLink had to do with GE Aviation. Surprisingly, she replied, “Actually, we’re working with them on runoff goals.”

She told how the Clean Water Act made strides in getting large industries to stop dumping pollutants in the river. “New Belgium has amazing stormwater infrastructure,” she said. They are credited with going above and beyond what anybody was expecting.

A major strategy in controlling runoff is to get rain to soak into the ground instead of gushing into the river. New Belgium built rain gardens, or small, landscaped retaining ponds, in its parking lot, which is finished with permeable pavers. Then, on the slope down to the river, it built swales. Swales are ditches dug along a single contour line, with the excavated dirt piled on the downward side to form a berm. Swales allow water to remain “at its own level” instead of seeking it. This gives more water time to seep into the soil.

Asked if the City of Asheville or other local governments had looked into what kinds of filtration systems might exist for storm drains, Susan Andrew, Riverlink’s development manager, said this campaign wasn’t dealing with infrastructure projects. The focus was “getting individuals to divert water away as much as possible.” LaMacchia concurred.

LaMacchia mentioned all the rain Asheville has received of late and called attention to how chocolatey brown the French Broad was. She was asked if worries about stormwater runoff were not another example of anthropocentric delusions of grandeur. After all, beliefs that the puny arm of man could improve forests by preventing fires or help children by pulling tonsils are all outmoded. In an ever-changing world, who are we to know which species belongs where and when?

“We’ve built homes and parking lots. Oil collects in the streets. Farmers herd cattle that spend the day in the river, leaving E. coli,” said LaMacchia. In other words, RiverLink was asking humans to clean up their own messes.

Andrew added that fertilizers and pesticides get sprayed on driveways and sidewalks. Oil leaks onto driveways and roads. When it rains, it can all go into the river unless stormwater abatement measures are in place.

While mud would wash into the river with or without human development, Andrew asks for consideration of the little creatures that cling to the riverbanks and riverbeds. When they get inundated with mud, they won’t be able to respire because their tiny gills will fill with silt. It may only be that their habitat gets too disturbed for them to return. Either way, the creatures that fed on them, and so on up the food chain, are also imperiled.

Andrew said personal stormwater mitigation can be simple. The objective is to get water that falls on unnatural, impervious surfaces to percolate through the soil. Riverlink’s campaign aims to increase awareness about “rainscaping tricks and tools” to help all be better stewards.

Rain barrels that collect runoff from roofing are one popular way to divert rainwater from erosional paths and save it for the garden in dryer times. Planting trees is a great way to prevent runoff because the roots help hold soil in place. Another strategy is called “disconnecting downspouts,” but it’s really just extending the downspout to divert flow from the driveway and into the garden.

Maybe you have a better idea. Good. RiverLink is collecting stories as part of the project. The press release quoted former Asheville City Councilman Marc Hunt. “Whether a resident who deploys a rain barrel or a rain garden in their landscape or a town that designs a wetland restoration into a park site, we all have a stake in this campaign’s success. RiverLink’s Reduce Rain Runoff campaign is making strides to expand awareness. I hope you will adopt its principles and promote the effort with your neighbors.”

RiverLink’s Reduce Rain Runoff campaign is funded with grants from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina ($50,500), the Duke Energy Foundation ($10,000), and the McClure Foundation ($10,000).