In the Halifax region, climate change is bringing us heavier precipitation, flood events, drought, extreme heat and more intense and frequent extreme weather events. It’s more important than ever to consider how to manage water on your property to prevent flooding.
As the municipality grows and more land is developed, the natural water cycle is altered. Urbanization creates more hard surfaces like parking lots and roads, which increases water flowing over the land and decreases the amount of water being soaked up by the ground. These changes can result in issues such as increased flooding and decreased water quality of our lakes.
In contrast, natural spaces and soft surfaces allow for better water absorption into the ground. When raindrops fall on a soft surface like a tree, shrubby area or wetland, the water may pool in leaves or absorb slowly into the soil. Through this process, plants naturally filter the water and reduce soil erosion.
With this information in mind, consider how your own property might absorb water – are there lots of hard packed surfaces that won’t absorb water? How can the flow of water be slowed? Here are some ways to manage water around your home that use nature-based solutions.
Rain barrels are easy to install and capture excess water flowing through your home’s downspout system. Water captured in rain barrels can be used to water your garden in the summer. Not only does this provide a great water source during dry periods but can save you money on your water bill or preserve your well water.
Rain gardens are another solution for diverting water from your home’s downspout or sump pump discharge, which are often designed to send water flowing across your lawn. Rain gardens are also attractive and can be great habitat for pollinators like bees and hummingbirds when native plants are used. In a rain garden, water is directed underground through coarse material like gravel or well-draining soil where it can be taken up by plant roots in the garden or percolate further down through the soil.
Resources for homeowners
- The Province of Nova Scotia has put together a helpful info sheet on Rain Barrels on page 37 of The Drop on Water.
- The United States Department of Agriculture shows the benefits of using a rain barrel in your garden in their video, Why Use Rain Barrels?
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides an overview of rain barrels.
Halifax Water’s downspout disconnect program
In the Halifax Regional Municipality, roof downspouts should not be connected to the municipal stormwater system. In some older homes and neighbourhoods, some downspouts are still directly connected to combined sewers. As Halifax Water removes combined sewers and replaces them with separate storm and sanitary systems through their downspout disconnect program, homeowners will be required to disconnect their downspouts, directing stormwater runoff across their own properties. This is a great opportunity to divert water from your newly disconnected downspout into a rain barrel, or through a rain garden.
Did you know that in the Halifax Regional Municipality you can remove the sod (grass) from the strip between the sidewalk and road in front of your house, and replace it with flowering plants, native grasses, or even vegetables? Native species with deeper roots absorb more storm water run-off and are also pollinator friendly. For more information, visit halifax.ca/boulevardgardening. You can also learn more by watching a video featuring Halifax Innovation District's Climate Action Challenge winners, Alma Lanscaping.
Trees in urban areas offer many benefits - they clean the air, reduce stormwater runoff, help reduce extreme heat and provide habitat for birds. Learn more about trees in Halifax’s Urban Forest.
Learn more about rain gardens by checking out the City of Edmonton’s rain garden in a box resource.
Tips for managing climate risk
Frequently asked questions
- What is stormwater?
Stormwater is the water from rain or melted snow and ice that runs off roofs, parking lots, driveways and other hard surfaces.
- What is green infrastructure?
Green infrastructure refers to natural and human-made elements that provide ecological and hydrological functions and processes. Components may include natural heritage features and systems, parklands, stormwater management systems, street trees, urban forests, natural channels, permeable surfaces and green roofs.
- What should I plant in my garden or yard?
Ideal choices for your yard or garden would be plants that are native to our region. Some examples include Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum). Both deep-rooted vegetation and plants that absorb a lot of water will help your yard manage heavy precipitation and slow erosion along steep slopes. Plants that are native and known to support pollinators will increase biodiversity and strengthen local food production. The Ecology Action Centre has put together a list of plants they suggest planting for erosion prevention and water storage.
- What is the municipality doing to manage stormwater?
Hard stormwater infrastructure like storm sewers, public drainage ditches, headwalls, and public catch basins in the Halifax Regional Municipality are predominately the responsibility of Halifax Water. The municipality’s Right of Way group also installs and maintains catch basins and drainage ditches on public roads.
The Halifax Regional Municipality uses nature-based resilient landscaping where possible to manage stormwater in our parks, in our right of ways, and on our properties. In using nature-based resilient landscaping to manage runoff, the municipality is preventing sediment and nutrients from entering our lakes and rivers. These projects also demonstrate options for residents to use on their own properties to better manage standing and flowing water, create habitat for wildlife and pollinators, and improve water quality in our lakes and rivers.
The municipality’s Parks department is expanding a pilot project which is undertaking the naturalization of its parks and right of ways. Naturalized spaces add colour and visual interest to spaces that would otherwise be lawn, provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, allow plants to catch standing water and runoff, and after the initial planting require less work to maintain.
In 2021, the municipality installed a rain garden on Prince Albert Road in Dartmouth. This is a nature-based solution to catch stormwater flowing down Sinclair Street and filter it before it enters Lake Banook. Lessons learned from this pilot project will inform the construction of future nature-based resilient landscaping in the municipality.
Green Infrastructure: Natural and human-made elements that provide ecological and hydrological functions and processes. Components may include natural heritage features and systems, parklands, stormwater management systems, street trees, urban forests, natural channels, permeable surfaces and green roofs.
Naturalization: an ecologically based approach to landscape management that seeks to enhance biodiversity and ecological resilience in the urban landscape using native or non-invasive-adapted plant species including flowering perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees.
Rain Garden: a depressed area in the landscape that collects rainwater from a roof, driveway or street and allows it to soak into the ground. Planted with grasses and flowering perennials, rain gardens can be a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff from your property.
Eutrophication: a phenomenon in lakes where an excess of nutrients leads to significant biological productivity. For example, eutrophic lakes are more prone to excess growth of aquatic plants, bacteria, algae, and cyanobacteria because there are more nutrients available to fuel the growth of these species.
Natural Assets: (also known as natural capital) are natural systems such as forests or wetlands, that deliver a flow of benefits (called ecosystem services) to people.