Just over a year ago, southwest Alabama and northwest Florida experienced a devastating storm that left hundreds without access to their homes and businesses, flooded out and stranded by a hurricane-force storm that didn’t come with the luxury of a week’s warning. Rainfall records in Pensacola go back to 1879, and the April 29-30 storm broke them all, estimating just over 20 inches over the two days. Not only was the rainfall heavy, but the torrent was high in both velocity and volume—at one point, a mind-boggling 5.68 inches fell in the span of one hour. That’s half the annual rainfall of many cities in California and Texas!
With every dark storm cloud comes a silver lining, though, and just like the millions pumped into our regional economy from oil spill-related fines, the April 2014 floods have awakened a “greener” ethic among many residents, business owners, and politicians. According to a study just released by an environmental consulting firm, when asked about infrastructure changes and improvements to flooding and stormwater, attendees at community meetings overwhelmingly preferred “low impact” solutions such as expanded green space, cisterns, rain gardens, and stream restoration to “hard” structures such as bigger underground pipes and more pumps. While traditional engineering infrastructure is still crucial to a community that must maintain roads, stormwater ponds, and buildings, I find it encouraging that residents are interested in trying different techniques that have proven successful both here and in other parts of the world.
So, how does one prepare for unexpected rain and floods? The first thing is to realize that northwest Florida receives the most annual rainfall (over 60”) of any region of the state, and sometimes it seems to come down all at once. Preparing landscapes to handle both frequent and heavy rains is an important place to start. This article will begin a series of articles delving into those “low-impact” stormwater management techniques that can help lessen the impact of the intense storms we experience here in northwest Florida. Many of these practices, such as creating mulch pathways, harvesting rainwater, and installing shoreline vegetative buffers, can be implemented by individual homeowners and help reduce the impact of flooding on a neighborhood and city-wide level