Traditional development and landscaping designs cause rainfall to flow off roofs, sidewalks, driveways, and compacted lawns. Water flows into streets, down the storm drain and through the storm sewer to the nearest stream, river or lake. Along the way, it picks up pollutants that degrade water quality. Learn more about what you can do to help reduce runoff and water pollution.

The Solution Page

You can help solve Iowa’s flooding and water quality problems!

As a homeowner or urban resident there are several things you can do to reduce runoff and improve water quality. To start, ask yourself some questions (example issues photos)

  • Where does water go when it leaves your property?
  • Do you have wet areas, or do you see water flowing when it rains?
  • How are your soils, do plants have trouble growing?
  • Do you want to do any landscaping?

By asking these questions you can begin to think about where could you utilize “Rainscaping” practices to manage your property’s runoff.

“Rainscaping Iowa is a statewide campaign promoting infiltration based storm water management practices that result in the improvement and protection of Iowa's soil and water resources.”

Rainscaping Practices

There are several stormwater, aka rainscaping, practices that can be implemented by homeowners and urban residents to manage stormwater and improve water quality. Essentially these practices can look like regular landscaping, but they can serve a range of purposes such as:

  • Improving soils
  • Slowing down runoff
  • Improving water quality
  • Providing pollinator habitat
  • Fix drainage issues

These practices rely on the natural functions of a healthy Iowa landscape, creating conditions where the ground can soak in and naturally filter the water. Many of these practices also utilize native prairie grasses and flowers that can have roots 5-10 ft. into the ground.

Rain Gardens

A rain garden is a landscaped depression that captures rainwater runoff from impervious surfaces, such as roofs and driveways. Runoff collected in a rain garden is temporarily ponded before seeping down through the soil. Installing a rain garden helps restore a landscape’s ability to manage water more sustainably.

Rain Garden Design Considerations

  • Must be more than 10 feet from buildings
  • Avoid utilities by marking locations prior to install
  • Floor of the rain garden must be level
  • Conduct percolation test prior to install
  • Determine size of impervious area draining into the garden and percolation rate
  • Ponded water should infiltrate within 12-24 hours
  • Slopes leading into the rain garden should be 3:1
  • Use the Iowa Rain Garden Manual to ensure the rain garden is designer and installed correctly

Soil Quality Restoration

As buildings and houses are built, valuable topsoil is removed and the remaining subsoil is compacted by heavy grading equipment and construction activity. Healthy soil is the first step in preventing polluted runoff. Soil quality restoration begins with the decompaction of soils, through aeration. Composed is added to further increase the soil’s organic matter content, which helps a yard absorb more rain.

Permeable Pavers

Roads, parking lots and driveways account for more than 60 percent of the impervious surfaces in urban areas and are the largest generators of stormwater runoff. Permeable pavement allows water to infiltrate into layers of rock placed below the pavers and then into surrounding soils.

Native Landscaping

Hardy native flowers and grassed with deep root systems help restore soil quality over time. This helps landscapes absorb more rainfall and reduces the amount of runoff. Native landscaping attracts songbirds, dragonflies, butterflies, and other desirable species.

Protecting Pollinators

Not only do native plants provide a great way to reduce runoff and improve water quality, they also provide the necessary habitat for many pollinators. Learn more about pollinators from some great information provided by the Blank Park Zoo and their effort to save pollinators called Plant.Grow.Fly.

They’re important. Pollinators are crucial to healthy ecosystems; a majority of our biodiversity, including plants, mammals, and birds, depend on the services provide. For example, 75% of flowering plants require insect pollination. Humans are especially dependent on pollinators as they help produce many of the fruits and vegetables that make up our diet.

Insect pollinators are also vital to our economy contributing $29 billion to farm income in the U.S. in 2010.

They’re disappearing. Pollinators, like butterflies and bees, are in decline due to a variety of reasons including disease, global climate change, loss of habitat and feeding resources, and some modern agricultural practices.

Butterflies, for instance, require large corridors of suitable habitat to navigate between nectar sources. Our increasing rates of development and expanding networks of roads, cities, and farm fields have presented them with formidable challenges.

You can help! Join and help out native pollinators thrive by planting a butterfly garden in your yard, at your school, or place of work! Our expertly researched garden plant list will help you choose the flowers and grasses that benefit our local species of the Upper Midwest.

No effort is too small. Gardens can range from several plants in pots on your porch to an entire prairie ecosystem. After you plant your garden, register it on the Plant.Grow.Fly. website.

Experts agree that even small patches of appropriate habitat on roadsides, in schoolyards, corporate landscapes, and backyards can help support butterflies and bees. These gardens can act as bridges to other gardens; creating a corridor of resources that these tiny travelers desperately need.

For more information visit

Rain Water Harvesting

Harvesting rainwater is gaining in popularity. You can start with a single rain barrel, or employ larger and more elaborate systems to capture large quantities of rainwater and significantly reduce runoff. A 1,500 square-foot ranch house sheds 1,000 gallons per inch of rain.

60% of Fourmile Creek watershed is composed of agricultural areas