Stormwater management

Suburbs

Much like forests, streams and wildlife, stormwater is a natural part of our environment. Runoff flows over hard surfaces, such as rooftops and driveways, and across the land before reaching our drainage systems, and ultimately our natural areas, such as creeks, lakes and wetlands.

In undeveloped conditions, water or snowfall can either be absorbed into the ground, or evaporated from either bodies of water or vegetation as part of its lifecycle.

However, as our landscape changes - with more houses, businesses, roads and parking lots making up our city -- the number of areas where stormwater can be absorbed into the ground - referred to as permeable or porous areas - continue to be replaced with hard, non-absorbent surfaces. These surfaces can also pollute our creeks and watercourses, as shown in the following diagram.

Proper stormwater management is necessary to control erosion, flooding and water quality, and to protect our watercourses.

Stormwater management system

A stormwater management system includes three parts:

  • Lot-level activities on individual properties, such as rain barrels, downspouts and cisterns.
  • Conveyance, or the movement or transfer of stormwater, by means such as storm drains and sewers.
  • End-of-pipe collection systems, such as stormwater management ponds, where water is treated through natural filtration and settling prior to being slowly released into the waterways; oil and grit separators; and stream restoration.

By collecting water and soaking up rain, we can:

  • Help ensure less water flows over paved areas - reducing the amount of oil and dirt that enters our lakes and ponds and improving the quality of our water and wildlife.
  • Save the water for reuse, or release the water when the ground it able to soak it up.

Stormwater ponds and recreational use

We love to spend time outdoors in the winter. Stormwater ponds may seem like a great place to go skating or to play hockey, but they're not. Winter or summer, these ponds are a key part of managing our stormwater, and recreational use of any kind is not permitted. Signs are posted at each of the city's stormwater ponds.

In winter, ice thickness constantly changes as runoff and water drainage water flows through the ponds, and de-icing agents used on roads also leads to unpredictable ice surfaces as road runoff is directed to the ponds. Ice that may be safe one day could be completely unsafe 48 hours later - despite extreme cold and no changes in weather - because of the flow of the water moving within the pond. Stormwater pond water can be warmer, more turbulent and melt ice faster than natural water ponds.

Freeze-thaw cycles are more common as part of our winter weather, which could lead to people falling through the ice; equipment (hockey boards, nets, benches, etc.) also falls through the ice and litters the ponds.

The city inspects the ponds each month to make they are functioning properly. Unauthorized equipment on the ponds is removed, and, if necessary, the ice will be broken up to prevent continued use.

Citizens can enjoy outdoor skating right in their own neighbourhoods in the city - there are 38 outdoor rinks throughout the city, almost all of which are cared for and maintained by dedicated community volunteers. Find the one closest to you.

Stormwater report card

To help ensure our current practices are achieving our objectives, every five years we conduct a comprehensive assessment of our stormwater management system and develop a report card summarizing the findings, as well as the effectiveness of our stormwater management policy.

There are four components to the report card: the physical, chemical and biological health of the city’s streams, as well as an assessment of overall SWM effectiveness.

Our most recent report card was developed in 2018, reporting on data collected from 2011 to 2015. Review the summary in each component in the accordions or download the full report card below.

 Physical Conditions
Vegetation that grows along stream banks provides several benefits to the ecosystem. This area is also called the riparian zone.
  • Vegetation helps stabilize stream banks and reduces soil erosion.
  • Vegetation filters out excess nutrients and reduces suspended solids in stormwater runoff.
  • Vegetation provides shading from the sun. This helps to cool the water, especially during summer months.
  • In-stream roots and overhanging canopy from trees provide fish habitat, as well as cover for fish and other organisms.
  • Organic debris, such as dead leaves, provides energy inputs.

Streams degrade when their banks are covered with less than 75 per cent of riparian vegetation.

Most creeks in the city are rated marginal for riparian cover (20-50 per cent), shown in yellow on the map.

Strasburg Creek, Idlewood Creek, and Kolb Creek are rated fair for riparian cover (40-55 per cent), shown in purple on the map.

Sandrock Greenway is rated poor for riparian cover (less than 20 per cent), shown in red on the map.

These ratings suggest there are opportunities to improve riparian cover throughout the city, especially during future creek rehabilitation projects.

View map of the physical conditions of the city's stormwater.

 Chemical Conditions

 Clean water in our creeks and streams:

  • Supports a diverse biological community;
  • Provides recreational activities within parks and green spaces, and
  • Contributes to overall human health within the city.

We measure water quality using a rotating set of monitoring stations in streams throughout the city. The Water Quality Index measures the quality of water at these monitoring stations.

Samples are collected in dry periods and in wet periods during or immediately following rainfall. By comparing water quality between dry and wet conditions, we can determine how effectively our stormwater management facilities are cleaning the water.

Dry conditions | The Water Quality Index has decreased from 2010 in Montgomery Creek, Idlewood Creek, and Kolb Creek. The index remained the same in Strasburg Creek and Sandrock Creek.

Wet conditions | The Water Quality Index remained unchanged in all creeks from 2010 to 2015.

Dry to wet comparison | In many creeks, the quality of water during and after wet weather, such as rainfall. This suggests that new or upgraded stormwater management practices are required to better manage runoff and reduce this water quality degradation.

View map of the chemical conditions of the city's stormwater.

 Biological Conditions

Streams and creeks support a wide range of biological life, including fish and aquatic invertebrates (the larval stages of many insects). The type and diversity of organisms in our streams is a good indicator of water quality and overall stream health.

The annual SWM monitoring program includes monitoring for both fish and invertebrates.

All of the creeks in Kitchener have a rating of marginal to poor for their biological conditions.

The conditions in Strasburg Creek south branch and Idlewood Creek decreased between 2010 and 2015.

Only Kolb Creek saw an improvement in its biological conditions.

Most creeks remained unchanged between 2010 and 2015 (Schneider Creek, Henry Sturm Greenway, Montgomery Creek, Strasburg Creek north branch, and Sandrock Creek).

View map of the biological conditions of the city's stormwater. 

 Stormwater Management

The overall goal of the city’s 2001 stormwater management strategy was to increase the areas that are treated for stormwater quality.

The Integrated Stormwater Management Master Plan, introduced in 2016, outlined an approach to ensure our existing stormwater management infrastructure is effectively improving surface water quality:

  • Proper maintenance, such as cleanouts of oil and grit separator units and catch basins, and removing sediment from existing stormwater management facilities.
  • Increase the number of planned retrofits of existing stormwater management facilities. These retrofits will improve or enhance the performance of water quality, quantity and erosion control.
  • Identify areas where new stormwater management facilities can be constructed when existing parks are being rehabilitated. This will increase the area that receives stormwater treatment.
  • Naturalize channels and reduce the number of concrete-lined streams. This will enhance and restore natural features and functions of these channels.

The map shows the areas of Kitchener that are currently being serviced by city-owned stormwater management ponds and the stream channel types.

View map of our stormwater management system.

Previous Report Cards:

Annual Stormwater Management Reports:

Kitchener-Waterloo partnership

We also partner with the City of Waterloo to help manage stormwater in both communities. These activities include:

  • Cleaning sewers, catchbasins and ponds
  • Removing obstructions in creeks and watercourses
  • Sweeping streets
  • Collecting leaves
  • Investigating sites
  • Responding to spills
  • Monitoring water flow and quality
  • Undertaking system rehabilitation, renewal and retrofit projects, as well as infrastructure projects (stormwater component)
  • Performing emergency maintenance
  • Developing stormwater management policies

How you can help

We all have a role to play when it comes to managing stormwater. Ways you can help us reduce the amount of runoff that flows over hard surfaces - as well as the amount of pollution entering our stormwater system, include:

  • Using a rain barrel to collect water for your garden. Rain barrels reduce runoff and help conserve water.
  • Disposing of hazardous products like motor oil, antifreeze, etc., by dropping them off at our local waste management facility. Never pour these materials -- or any waste products - into the stormwater system. For more information, visit the Region of Waterloo.
  • Washing your car at a car wash, instead of your driveway, to prevent soapy water and sediment from entering our stormwater system.
  • Sweeping dirt from your sidewalks and driveways and putting the debris in the garbage, instead of on the road.
  • Picking up pet waste regularly.
  • Reducing the use of salt for ice melting during the winter.
  • Ensuring your downspouts drain onto your lawn or garden areas, not directly onto driveways, sidewalks or streets.

In taking these steps, we can work together to keep our water clean and improve the quality of habitat for our wildlife.

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