What’s the Problem, and Why Does It Matter?
Approximately 40% of Hartford’s land area is comprised of impervious surfaces, and much of the remaining area is covered with clay-heavy soils with low infiltration rates. Impervious surfaces prevent rain from being absorbed into the soil underneath, resulting in excess stormwater runoff and causing added burden and stress on the city’s aging infrastructure. Hartford has a 150 year-old combined sewer system, which means that rainwater combined with wastewater can exceed the system’s capacity during storm events, resulting in discharges of untreated wastewater through combined sewer overflows (CSO).
More than 1/2 billion gallons of untreated wastewater overflow to local streams and waterways annually. These discharges impact the Connecticut River’s water quality over a 30 mile distance up to 50 times per year – every time it rains more than 0.25 inches. Other areas that have impaired water quality as a result of these CSOs include: Wethersfield Cove, North Branch Park River, Trout Brook, Goff Brook, among others. In addition, local basements and streets may experience backups and flooding of raw sewage as well.
What’s the Solution?
Green infrastructure (GI) is an alternative approach to stormwater management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle, using water as a resource. Widespread adoption of GI techniques can help reduce the cost of eliminating sewer backups and localized flooding, while providing many co-benefits such as cleaner air, cooler city streets, increased public green space, and enhanced wildlife habitat, all of which improve the quality of urban life. One cost-effective approach to green infrastructure is installing a rain barrel.
Installing rain barrels located in the combined sewer areas of Hartford is a low-cost approach recommended in the EPA Next Steps Memo. Homeowners can separate their roof downspouts from the combined sewer system and redirect roof runoff into a rain barrel, which can be used to water lawns and rain gardens. This approach, which has been successfully implemented by other cities around the country, reduces inputs to the combined sewer system while also absorbing excess runoff.