Record amounts of rainfall in some areas over the summer has highlighted the importance of stormwater ponds to help prevent flooding and improve water quality throughout the region. You may have seen stormwater ponds throughout neighborhoods and commercial developments in Florida but might not know about their purpose as many people often mistake stormwater ponds for natural water bodies. Southwest Florida Water Management District ERP Bureau Chief David Kramer answers some of the most commonly asked questions about stormwater ponds and explains why they are critical in flood prevention and improving water quality.
Q: What are stormwater ponds and why do we need them?
A: A stormwater pond is designed to collect and manage runoff from rainwater. When rainwater lands on rooftops, parking lots, streets, driveways and other hard surfaces, the rainfall that doesn’t soak into the ground (stormwater runoff) flows into your neighborhood stormwater pond through grates, pipes, shallow swales or ditches. Stormwater ponds are required for most new development (since the 1980s) and are specifically designed to help prevent flooding and remove pollutants from the water. Without these ponds, excess stormwater would flood downstream to adjacent systems and properties. It would also carry pollutants like litter, motor oil, gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, pet wastes, sediments and anything else that can float or dissolve in water, into nearby streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries and the Gulf of Mexico.
Q: Why don’t I see any stormwater ponds in my neighborhood?
A: Some neighborhoods that have been experiencing flooding during the summer months were built without ponds before the District’s stormwater regulations went into effect. The District typically does not have jurisdiction in those areas. If you are experiencing flooding at your home, your first contact should be your local government as they bear much of the responsibility when it comes to local flood protection.
Q: How do stormwater ponds affect water quality?
A: Stormwater runoff can enter neighborhood streams, ponds, lakes, bays, wetlands and oceans and eventually make its way into our groundwater (water beneath the earth's surface.) If that runoff is contaminated with things like oil from your driveway, too much fertilizer on your lawn or even pet waste, it can cause pollution and damage to the ecosystem. Stormwater ponds collect and filter these pollutants from the water before they are discharged into our watershed.
Q: Who is responsible for maintenance of stormwater ponds in my neighborhood?
A: Once the developer has completed construction of the roads and drainage system in a neighborhood, the property owner’s association (or in some cases, a community development district (CDD)) is typically responsible for maintaining the neighborhood drainage system, including the stormwater ponds. The long-term upkeep and maintenance of the ponds becomes the responsibility of the association or CDD, including labor and expenses for keeping the system functional.
Q: Can I remove vegetation from my stormwater pond?
A: Many stormwater ponds are designed and required to include native aquatic vegetation. Native vegetation will filter polluted runoff, trap sediments, control the growth of nuisance vegetation and help make the pond aesthetically pleasing. Aquatic plants pump oxygen into the water and create habitat by providing cover and nurseries for fish and other organisms. Pond owners often request approval to remove vegetation that becomes overgrown in stormwater ponds. Removal of exotic, nuisance and excess vegetation is allowed. Just make sure to consult your association or CDD and the District before removing any significant amount of vegetation. The District recommends selective maintenance and removal by hand rather than mass removal of native wetland vegetation that becomes established in a stormwater pond. The District does not recommend cutting, mowing, using herbicides or introducing grass carp to remove native vegetation. In addition, if using herbicides, use only herbicides labeled for aquatic use. Herbicides not labeled for aquatic use may harm fish and other aquatic life, and their application to aquatic sites is prohibited by state and federal law.
Q: Is it OK to use stormwater ponds for recreational purposes such as fishing, swimming, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding?
A: Recreational use of stormwater ponds is potentially hazardous to your health and is not recommended. Stormwater ponds are designed to capture and retain stormwater runoff, which may contain many different types of pollution, including sediments, oils, greases, trash, nutrients, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides and pathogens.
Q: What can residents do to help prevent pollution and flooding in stormwater ponds?
A: Never fill or obstruct stormwater ponds, swales and retention systems, as that will potentially keep the stormwater pond from working as designed. Never dump excess oils and other chemicals from your home or yard, including grass clippings, into stormwater drains or ponds. Also, be sure to clean up pet waste so nutrients and bacteria don’t enter stormwater drains.
David Kramer is a professional engineer and is the Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) Bureau Chief of the Regulation Division. A graduate of University of South Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, he has more than 20 years of experience in water resource engineering and has spent his entire career in public service at the District. David also participates in statewide ERP rule development and coordination and is a member of the Florida Engineering Society and the American Society of Civil Engineers.