Living in an apartment and working in residential stormwater management has always felt a little strange. I’ve installed hundreds of rain gardens and planted thousands of native plants but the best my home can boast is an umbrella bush that fends for itself on the balcony. I have saved a ton of water by forgetting to water it. Good thing it’s been raining a lot this spring!

From the balcony I can see the west branch of the Anacostia River flowing down towards the Potomac. On the other side of the building there are three tiers of parking lots. When it rains, they all funnel water down past our front door, collecting loose trash from around the communal dumpster as it goes. This joins the run off from our neighboring complexes to form a small stream leading down to the river. So much of the conversation around storm water management is geared towards property owners. We encourage people to install rain gardens and rain barrels. We replace drive ways with permeable pavers and plant native gardens on slopes. But when you live in an apartment it is important to remember that you can still have a big impact on the stormwater in your area.

Stormwater runoff onto pavement

Photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

The most important thing you can do is educate yourself about the issues that are impacting your area. Find out where the storm water from your building goes. Is it being directed into a drainage system? If so, does your city have a combined sewer system? In my situation the issue is obvious. Storm water is collecting pollutants from the parking lot and garbage from poorly maintained dumpsters and carrying it down to the Anacostia.

Once you have identified the issue, it’s time to take action.

Be an advocate

Just because you see an issue, it doesn’t mean the people in charge are aware of it. Bring the issue up with the property owners. I can talk with the apartment managers and ask that they have the dumpsters fenced off, limiting the amount of trash that escapes the area.

Model what a positive impact would look like in your area

You can organize a stream clean up with the Alliance’s Project Clean Steam initiative or you can volunteer to help remove invasive species in a local park. This is a fun way to collaborate with others who want to make a difference in your community.

4 volunteers in the field

Photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

Reduce your water usage

You can reduce your daily water usage by making your faucets, showers, and toilets more efficient. You can add a low flow faucet aerator for just $5. These little guys require no tools or expertise to install and can reduce a faucets water usage by 50% without reducing pressure. There are also low flow shower heads that have a similar effect. They can cost as little as $25 and greatly reduce the amount of water you use with each shower. You can add (or get your maintenance team to add) a pressure assist flush system to your toilet.

Keep sewage out of the Bay

If you live in an area with a combined sewer system, reducing the water you use can ease the burden on sewer systems during a rain event. Avoid running your dishwasher or laundry machine while it’s raining. Try not to wash any cleaning supplies down the drain, especially sink, toilet and drain cleaners.

Water and land surrounding the Chesapeake Bay

Photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program