Harnessing Storm Water Beautifully

Landscape Solutions for Storm water(Published in Today’s Home and Away)

The heavy rains that have pounded the city for the last week have affected all of us in one way or another. Many city residents have had to put up with unbearable hours in traffic while others have become accustomed to wading in murky waters as the storms turned city roads into rivulets.

Still others have had to put up with frequent power outages as Kenya power’s infrastructure gave in under the heavy downpour.  And when it’s all done, The Kenya urban Roads Authority (KURA) will be repairing the city roads all over again.

But these are nothing compared to the lives and livelihoods that have literally been washed away as peoples’ homes and property are submerged or buried under rock and mud slides. Once again we are reminded just how vulnerable we are as far as managing storm water is concern.

Out of site Approach

While poor management of existing storm water infrastructure may be blamed for the perennial anguish that comes with the rains, the truth is, the way we have always dealt with rain water leaves a lot to be desired. The obsession with curbs, culverts and ditches that treat storm water as waste that need to be conveyed out of site as fast as possible is as tired as it is wasteful.

New approaches need to be sought urgently. Today there are new storm water management techniques that treat storm water as a resource that needs to be tapped at source and used to create amenities that enhance a site’s attractiveness and provide rich experiences for users.  They address storm water management in environmentally responsible ways and create expressive landscapes that celebrate storm water. Here are some of them:

Detention and Retention

Storm water detention systems detain and store collected storm water runoff for a period of time, releasing it slowly to reduce flooding. Many times such systems are disguised as ornamental ponds in the landscape.

Retention systems on the other hand hold storm water for re-use in the dry season. Incidentally, such systems don’t have to be the traditional round or square galvanized iron or plastic tanks. They can be innovatively incorporated as landscape features such as fountains and waterfalls.

Filtration and Infiltration

Filtration systems do more than just retaining or detaining water on-site. They also reduce storm water pollution through various methods. Bio-retention gardens, for instance, use certain plants to systematically filter grey water into fresh water that can be used to water plants in the landscape and maintain ornamental water features.

Green roof systems and constructed wetlands consist of a series of manmade tanks or ponds that separates wastes and recycles water before allowing it to slowly filter into the ground. Both systems can be designed, not as hard mechanical systems, but as ornate landscape features.

Infiltration systems promote groundwater recharge. French drains are a good example of such a system. They redirect storm water into the ground and allow it to percolate slowly overtime. They include Infiltration trenches and basins as well as porous pavements.

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5 thoughts on “Harnessing Storm Water Beautifully

  1. Good article Omole, especially for the people who can afford some space. I have read widely on storm water management, where use of natural drains, rain gardens, bio-retentions, biotope areas, porous parking lots, and more capital intensive engineering ventures are employed. I read somewhere that Nairobi City Council By-Laws prohibit rain water harvesting, is it true?

    • Thanks Martin, am glad you liked the article and that you are interested in the subject.(There are not too many of us out there).

      I don’t know if there is a particular by-law that prohibits rain water harvesting, but I can’t rule it out; some of CCN’s by-laws have been known to be ridiculous. I however don’t think anyone will arrest you from doing the right thing and harvesting storm water. What is lacking, but which we need like yesterday are laws that would oblige developers to reduce, reuse and recycle storm water at source.

      Am told The Ministry of Nairobi Metro was working on such a legislation some two years back. Can’t tell what happened to that, perhaps it got stuck in the bureaucracy.

  2. Considering that we have more dry months than wet ones in Nairobi or any other part of Kenya, retention and use of storm water makes a lot of sense for our nation. This will serve the purpose of irrigating our gardens, parks, replenish our pools and fountains in the case of urban areas. In rural areas this can be done at domestic level for daily use, irrigate small plots to supplement food needs. At regional level where the new county governments construct mini dams and canals in storm water drainage routes or small rivers for irrigation and fish rearing. And at national level where the central government retains water that flow to the ocean and lake Victoria during rainy seasons by constructing numerous dams of the 7 folks magnitude a long River Tana, Athi, Nyando, Nzoia, Ewaso Nyiro etc for massive irrigation schemes. This can turn us into a surplus food country and ignite processing, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, massive infrastructure development and see us kiss ignorance, poverty and disease goodbye. Especially with the soon to come oil money as capital.

  3. I have always read your articles because I love nature around my compound, trees, good landscaping, ornamental fish ponds etc. Do we have government bureaucrats who think like this. It has always pained me when I see rainwater running like rivers on our roads when we are going home. If only that water is tapped somewhere and used even for flashing our toilets and washing cars. Omole why can’t you start a forum where as professionals can start educating the masses or an NGO which supplement in starting small scale pans to store water for irrigation and domestic use? We will support it. That forum like the political ones can challenge this government to start doing something.

  4. It is welcoming to hear us thinking about converting storm runoff to benefit our own needs. I think that the residential developers should have their design input from clients. That way they can design with storm management and other important design elements in mind. I love the beautiful houses/apartments in Kenyan towns but the picture lacks something in that the designer did not think how the residents will interact with nature; this aspect is totally not in the picture. We do not want to shut people inside houses, the developers if they work with potential clients will know that ladies want to take their cup of tea outside and drink while talking to playing kids, another might want to plant 4 tomato plants, a few sukuma wiki, while others want to sit where there is a pond. With such kind of input from reality show (clients), the developers will develop African designs for the user. I bet we should be the ones to start fighting for this right and get the city council adopting this kind of policy.

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