Help with stormwater creek bed in back yard

briggins1014February 23, 2011

Unfortunately we purchased our home in a drought and didn't realize the extent of the storm water that flows through our backyard until after we moved in and experienced the 1st big rain.

After further investigation, we found that all this water is the storm water from the neighborhood behind us, that was built 15 years after ours.

My neighbor to the left, upstream, has a legitimate creek bed w/ boulders/large rocks...but then it just empties into our yard.

I've notified the city of Charlotte and they gave it a category 3 - or low priority. Saying that they will "get to it in 5 years or so."

I have a friend that owns a bobcat and an excavator, so I'm leaning toward tackling this project by myself, but need assistance. I'd like to make it 6' wide and 4-5 feet deep...using large stones and river rock. What about all of the tree roots that are close to the creek?

Here are pictures of the problem:



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So, can you extend the neighbor's dry creek bed to the other side of your property, to where ever it naturally drains off?? Is that going to be in another neighbor's yard? If it involves someone else you would need to give them a heads up if it is legal to do this in your area. Not a good surprise. Especially when we get toad-strangler rains from hurricanes from down south.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 9:30PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)
    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 10:54PM
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squirejohn zone4 VT

From your photos it appears the water "sheets" across your yard rather than via a defined channel. If so I would not attempt to make a 6' wide channel as you may wind up with an ugly ditch. A four foot deep channel will eventually fill in with fines, debris etc, and you may get lateral erosion as well. If you can mow the area now (can't tell from photos) I'd leave it alone.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 5:40AM
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What happens when the 4' deep trench meets the property line? The water in the ditch will have nowhere to go until the ditch is completely full. Then it will continue on the way it used to onto the neighboring property. As soon as it has lowered enough it will stop flowing and you'll have a 4' deep puddle in your yard. How is that beneficial?

SquireJohn is right that when you slow down water that is carrying suspended material, the material drops out and will eventually fill your ditch.

You are limited by how the water leaves your property.If there is a deeper narrower area that the water exits by when it crosses the property line, you have more options. If it leaves in a wide sheet, there is not much benefit to making a channel. Right now, it appears that it exits your property and is not a problem of sitting water.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 6:32AM
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You will find that the pro's on this Forum have a healthy respect for moving water and also the reaction of a local municipality when a water course is altered without permission. Don't go there! Call your local building department and request that its civil engineer meet with you to discuss the situation. There should be no charge for this. It appears that you are willing to foot the bill for remediation so you should find your cash strapped government helpful with the design. Or, due to downstream considerations, permission may be denied.

This is a new age in municipal water management; collecting, detaining and releasing storm water in 'rain gardens' slowly on private properties. Technically your backyard could be classified as a rain garden. Your problem may fall on deaf ears. Whatever...get permission and an approved plan before putting blade to soil.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 7:29AM
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Thank you all for the replies. I failed to mention that as the water departs my yard, the neighbors downstream have a defined ditch/creek and further downstream in the neighborhood the creek is approximately 10-15' wide.

Since this photo was taken 2 years ago, I've used a shovel to help channel the water down stream. Now there is no grass where the water is in the pictures, just a muddy mess.

Do any of you know how to find maps of the city's intentions on moving the storm water from the neighborhood behind mine that is causing this problem?

I'll take more pictures upstream and downstream to give a better sense of what I'm dealing with.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 3:24PM
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If the upland neighborhood is a more recent subdivision, the builders are sometimes required to include stormwater runoff plans as part of their submittals. If this was required in your case, you could find the plan at the permit office.

Does the city have a stormwater plan? You could ask at the zoning office. In a lot of places, they don't, especially if it goes from one private residence to another.

Although it looks like a lot of water, it doesn't look very deep. A 6' wide, 4-5' deep trench seems like it would be overkill and really break up your yard. How big is the upland neighbor's dry creek bed? It might make sense to have a smaller dry bed along with perhaps a rain garden/ rain swale to deal with some overflow.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 4:13PM
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I have never actually measured the depth, since it does come thru rather fast...the girls next door did try (unsuccessfully) to intertube down the rapids last summer.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 4:27PM
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I had a similar problem and the county was very helpful. They sent a guy out who had lots of storm water experience - the free consult was very worthwhile. Legally I cannot keep water from flowing onto my land that is supposed to flow there according to the subdivision plan. But I built a mini berm to guide it around the house. It's just two garden timbers with some soil behind it, that goes diagonally across the hillside. It was the storm guy's idea and it helps a lot. I'm going to put a dry stream bed about two foot across by six inches deep along one side of the house and across the front yard, because I need to channel a lot of water through without muddy spots, and I have the vertical drop to keep it flowing. HTH

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 6:13PM
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bernd ny zone5

Perhaps your town Planning Dept. has maps of your development with elevations showing. From those you could see how rain water naturally finds a creek or stream to be carried away. I have one for my development in NY State and successfully required a developer behind my backyard to drain his drain water correctly. This is also important for large rains in early spring with ground still frozen.

As suggested, consider making a shallow dry creek bed, like pooring a few bags of gravel to form a low dam to channel any of neighbor's water across your yard to the natural low spot at your property line. But your own rain water probably also wants to run to a low spot.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 6:15PM
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Not sure if you've resolved this or not but there are some good solutions out there. Take a look at Rain Gardening in the South. Here's the publisher's link but it's available at the library and local book stores. There's also a good link on the NC Cooperative Extension website -
Rain gardens really work. Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 10:11PM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

I agree with Elementalgardener. I have been working with rain gardens for the past four years, and they really do work, if designed properly. Just bear in mind that if you slow water down, it will drop sediment so whatever collection device you design will eventually fill up. So better to keep soil there and instead use plant roots to slow it down and collect it, and then release it into the air. It is a great system called "evapotranspiration" and nature has been doing it without problems for millions of years. Always easier to work with nature and save yourself some time, money and energy in the long run. Let your land do what it wants to do naturally, work with it and tweak it to solve your problem. Patchwork solutions that don't do this (and there are gazillions of them out there and gazillions of people who will charge you to install them), and eventually will have to be redone, which is fine for the purveyors of these types of solutions, keeps them in business. A man made swale can be a good solution, but its not just anybody who can do it correctly. Do some research first.

Here are some guidelines:
1.Start at the source (figure out where the water is coming from and where it goes after it leaves your property)
2. Integrate the solutions (realize that what your neighbors are doing is going to affect what you can do, and vice versa. Best solutions integrate the whole picture, not just what is going on in your yard)
3. Maximize permeability (the ability of the soil to absorb the water)
4. Minimize directly connected impervious areas (give the water a place to slow down in between areas where it can't infiltrate)
5. Use drainage as a design element (meaning it doesn't have to look ugly, it can look very cool! Also, you may have to implement a whole series of smaller solutions rather than just one big all-purpose one.)

Sometimes these gardens are called "bioswales" meaning they utilize the shape and benefits of a swale, and then also add plants that not only look good but provide more opportunities for water infiltration, along with evapotranspiration (that's when plants release water into the air, which they all do, significantly). Research is just beginning to show how that contributes to managing water problems.

Anyway, that's just the tip of the iceberg of some considerations. Good luck!! Maybe check out a raingarden forum if there is one.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 10:40AM
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