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Water Quality Planning

Best Management Practices

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are methods that aim to reduce or prevent pollution in stormwater. Our built environment and human behaviors contribute to the amount of pollutants that will reach local water sources through stormwater runoff. BMPs provide a wide range of environmental benefits, as well as increased quality of life for all those who live in the Richmond region. BMP education provides residents with insight into current practices in their communities and how to engage in practices on their own.

What is Stormwater Runoff?

Simply put, stormwater runoff is rain or water that flows across land surfaces (i.e., pavement, soil, or grass). In doing so, the runoff absorbs a variety of pollutants along the way, carrying them into local water sources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists several common individual behaviors that impact stormwater, which include littering, applying fertilizers or other lawn-chemicals, car oil and grease, and improper disposal of pet waste.

Urban areas are prone to increased runoff due to large amounts of impervious surfaces (e.g., asphalt or rooftops). When runoff is absorbed by soil, plants, or trees, it filters out pollutants and slows its entrance into water sources. The following urban BMPs aim to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollutants that reach water sources through stormwater runoff. When communities utilize these practices, they are committing to doing their part to protect local water sources.

Rain gardens aim to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that collects in specific areas after heavy rains. Residents create an aesthetically pleasing garden that will improve water quality and increase wildlife habitat. By utilizing a depressed area of land, prone to excessive stormwater runoff, soil and native shrubs are planted above to absorb and filter pollutants. Through this practice, residents will reimagine their yards in a way that will reduce pollution in stormwater, improve wildlife habitat, and reduce potential flooding risks. Chesterfield County's Department of Environmental Engineering developed a Rain Garden Guide for the design and installation of rain gardens at your home or business.

Rain garden diagram - Royal Oak, n.d. 


Rain garden example, before (left) and after (right) - Royal Oak, n.d. 

Planting trees in developed areas provides a variety of environmental benefits, from improved water quality to the mitigation of urban heat island effects. One study conducted by the Science Museum of Virginia found that specific areas in Richmond with low tree canopy and high impervious surfaces were considerably hotter than those with more tree canopy and lower impervious surfaces. Through increased urban tree planting, there is the potential of alleviating the communities at-risk for higher temperatures.

This BMP allows for increased wildlife habitats and improved air quality in developed areas. Through conserving existing trees and planting new ones, urban areas reap the benefits of an increased tree canopy.


Urban tree planting example - Public Works, n.d. 


Urban heat vulnerability map - Hoffman, 2018 

Increased development in urban areas leads to more impervious surfaces (i.e., asphalt or rooftops) and stormwater runoff. The increased quantity of stormwater and the speed of the water flow negatively impacts local streams by overwhelming the natural systems, causing erosion.  Sometimes the erosion might be so severe urban streams convert into deep gorges made dangerous by litter and flashy, high level flows during and after rain events.  A stream restoration project seeks to redesign the natural system of floodplain and stream channel to handle the increased flow of stormwater.  Our friends at the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) have created a resource explaining stream restorations and highlighting some projects in the northern Virginia region.   We encourage you to take a look!

The implementation of forest buffers in both rural and urban areas provides a variety of environmental benefits. When trees and shrubs are planted next to streams and rivers, nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollutants are absorbed in their soil and roots. When pollutants are absorbed in the forest buffer instead of flowing into local bodies of water, this improves local water quality and impacts residents' quality of life. The forest itself acts as a source of food and shelter for wildlife and are critical to various local species.


By utilizing vehicles to clean roads along curbside gutters, street sweeping is an effective way to reduce the amount of pollutants that reach local bodies of water. Street sweeping removes potential pollutants such as trash, debris, sand, road salt, and other solids. 


Mechanical Broom Sweeping - Mill City Times, 2019   

Septic Systems

Effective septic systems are crucial to improving water quality, environment, and quality of life. For more information on septic system maintenance, click here.


Conventional Septic System Diagram - EPA, 2018 

Yards of Tomorrow

Yards of Tomorrow is a series of workshops PlanRVA and Crater PDC are planning in cooperation with Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the region.  Yards of Tomorrow encourages residents to reimagine their yards in a way that will 1) reduce the use of turfgrass, 2) reduce stormwater runoff, and 3) increase wildlife habitat. Residents can rethink their yards in a way that will reduce the use of turfgrass but keep green coverage. When community members commit to creating a Yard of Tomorrow, they are helping to reduce the amount of pollutants (nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment) that reach local bodies of water.

In February 2020 we hosted the first Yards of Tomorrow Workshop in cooperation with our partners. You can view the primary presentation from that workshop here.

We will post upcoming workshops here and on the PlanRVA Facebook page. For more information about using native plants in your yard, see the Plant RVA Natives campaign.


Yards of Tomorrow example - Before, TJ Lawn Services


Yards of Tomorrow example - After, TJ Lawn Services