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Stormwater runoff is rain or snowmelt that flows over the ground and into the City’s stormwater system or directly into creeks and streams. As this runoff flows, it can pick up and transport harmful pollutants such as oils and greases, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, trash and debris, sediment, and animal wastes.
Our storm drains do not connect to water treatment facilities, but rather drain untreated into local waterways. As a result, contaminated stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution to our local waterways. Excessive contamination of runoff causes sedimentation of our streams, water quality degradation, and unhealthy water conditions for humans and wildlife.
Stormwater in Charlottesville flows from smaller creeks such as Rock Creek, Schenks Branch, Lodge Creek, and Pollocks Branch, into larger creeks like Moores Creek and Meadow Creek, and eventually into the Rivanna River.
View a map of the City’s local waterways, of which there are over 45 miles. From the Rivanna River, water flows into the Middle James, or Piedmont Region, of the James River. The James River then takes our water to the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, the water from the Bay ends up in the Atlantic Ocean.
View a Public Service Announcement the City created to illustrate stormwater’s journey.
The biggest influencing factor on stormwater runoff is the presence of impervious surfaces, which are any surface coverings that do not absorb water, including roads, roofs, and parking lots. As a result, water cannot soak into the ground, and instead drains into the stormwater system, and then our creeks and rivers, much faster then it naturally would. This rapid drainage, along with the increased quantity of runoff results in high peak flows in waterways during storms, causing severe erosion of stream banks, scouring of stream beds, excessive sedimentation, and flooding.
In urban environments such as Charlottesville, large areas are covered with impervious surfaces. There are almost 99 million square feet of impervious surface in the City. That is enough to cover over 1,700 football fields!
Sediment loading is recognized as one of the greatest threats to the Rivanna River and the Chesapeake Bay; sediment carries pollutants that have bonded to it into waterways, suspends in the water column and blocks sunlight from aiding in the growth of aquatic vegetation, clogs the gills of fish (sometimes suffocating them) and eventually destroys aquatic habitat in stream beds when it settles.
Green stormwater infrastructure utilizes plants, trees, and other measures to mimic natural processes that control and treat stormwater before it enters creeks, streams, and rivers. Green stormwater infrastructure includes practices such as vegetated roofs, bioretention, tree planting, permeable pavement, and rainwater harvesting that aim to intercept, evaporate, transpire, filter, infiltrate, capture, and reuse stormwater.
Some examples of green stormwater infrastructure projects completed by the City include the vegetated green roof on City Hall, the bioretention filter at Charlottesville High School, and the constructed wetlands in Azalea Park. Check out the CityGreen Map to see these and many more examples!
A watershed is an area of land where all water drains into a common waterway, be it a stream, river, lake, wetland, estuary, or even the ocean. Since all water runs downhill due to the force of gravity, watershed boundaries are typically comprised of ridge tops or high elevation areas.
A watershed can be very large and can cover several states. For example, the Chesapeake Bay watershed encompasses over 64,000 square miles, and consists of parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware and Virginia. Watersheds can also be very small, encompassing a few small streams or wetland areas. Charlottesville lies in the Rivanna River watershed, which is a medium sized watershed, encompassing 766 square miles. The Rivanna River watershed is nested within the James River watershed, which lies within the even larger Chesapeake Bay watershed.