A drop in the river

Water management in our urban landscape has typically focused on getting water away from structures and to a pipe or stream as quickly as possible. This leads our urban landscapes to be water insensitive and uneconomical. We pay to have rainwater shipped off-site, then pay for it to be cleaned and piped back to our homes for outdoor use.

When we look at the water cycle, you can see that the increase in impervious surfaces, such as roofs, sidewalks, driveways and streets, doesn’t allow water to seep into the soil as it once did. This increase in impervious surfaces boosts both the amount of rainwater and the speed that rainwater gets to the stream, reducing its time in our ecosystem being cleansed by the soil and plants. When a high volume of fast-moving water hits our streams during a rainfall, it causes much of the stream-bank erosion and sediment in our streams and rivers — and explains why the French Broad River turns mud-brown when it rains. 

Water is vital to all of us, of course — for drinking, cleaning and recreating, along with uses for industry, electricity, and maintaining habitat and landscapes. The WaterRICH program is a resource built to help residents understand how they can be good stewards of our natural resources. The project seeks to increase infiltration of stormwater into the ground and the water table, reduce the use of potable water, improve water quality in the French Broad River watershed and reduce pressure on the existing stormwater system.

Preserving water on a site can make your site WaterRICH through rain gardens and rain harvesting. You can improve your landscape to be healthy without the use of potable water from our city’s drinking water. RiverLink developed the WaterRICH program, based on research from North Carolina State University and various rain-garden programs throughout the country, to help homeowners understand rainwater management. 

The program offers an online resource guide (riverlink.org/WaterRICH.asp), training programs through RiverLink and the N.C. Cooperative Extension, design and installation support, and professional resources at your fingertips. WaterRICH will teach you how to harvest rainwater, create garden features which promote water seeping into the soil (stormwater features), and that reduce outside water needs. RiverLink can certify homes as WaterRICH after rain harvesting or rain gardens are installed, or if you already have these systems at work in your landscape. Certification promotes full-site efficiency, increased property value, and the transfer of property between different owners.

Here’s what WaterRICH can do for you

  • Reduce use of potable water on landscapes, and consequently, your water bill.
  • Increase property values and prevent or fix existing water issues.
  • Assist in reducing pollution into our creeks and the French Broad River, which serves more than 1 million people with drinking water and is widely used for recreation. 
  • Offer step-by-step instructions through the online handbook to create a WaterRICH landscape.
  • Provide information on how to design and construct water-quality features, such as rain gardens, through hands-on workshops and trainings.
  • Offer access to design professionals specifically trained in residential-
  • Provide an avenue to have your home certified as WaterRICH.

Nancy Hodges, a registered landscape architect, is RiverLink’s watershed resources manager. Along with the WaterRICH program, she also runs the stream-restoration and water-quality programs, and works to develop greenways along the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay and throughout the French Broad River watershed.