Flooded rural street with car in foreground and person with a shovel in background.
Rural Stormwater
How to solve problems of standing water, minor flooding, and poor drainage in rural areas

Do you have ponding water in your driveway, unwanted water coursing through your yard, or do your downspouts overflow?

If so, you have a stormwater management challenge! Rural areas often lack city services like storm drains that conveniently carry stormwater away.

Most stormwater management efforts have focused on urban watersheds due to the high densities of people, pollutant sources, and impervious areas. However, rural stormwater runoff can harm rural properties and roadways and degrade rural water quality.  

WSU Fact Sheet: Understanding Your Site Conditions  

Why is stormwater management important in rural areas?

Rural areas have many high-quality natural resources such as clear, clean streams, wild salmon, healthy forests, open pastures, and abundant wildlife. Poor stormwater management can harm water quality and impact these resources. Curbs, gutters and stormdrains on city streets help reduce flooding and, in some cases, to lead to water quality treatment. These features are often absent on country roads, rural properties, or smaller subdivisions. Rural areas can flood, even with fewer paved surfaces, fewer homes, and less traffic. Compacted gravel roads, buildings, and farm structures are susceptible to runoff problems without the benefit of big-city solutions.

Find solutions

Fortunately, there are many solutions to rural stormwater challenges. Many rural residents use swales, dispersion methods, rain gardens and other techniques to manage and infiltrate water on their property.  Most of the options available for solving drainage problems in rural areas rely on infiltrating water into well-draining soils. If your groundwater is high and stormwater can’t infiltrate during the wet months, you may be able to safely convey water across your landscape with other techniques to a place where it can infiltrate.  

Unintended consequences

Clearing native vegetation, interrupting the flow of water, compacting soils, or adding additional impervious surfaces, such as a gravel driveway, changes the way water flows on your property. Altering the water flow can have unintended consequences downstream such as flooded basements, overwhelmed culverts, washed-out roads, and loss of salmon habitat. Create a site map and consult with your local county agency, Extension office, or Conservation District before you begin work.

ponded water partially covering a rural road

Minor flooding occurs when areas of the landscape that may have been relatively dry until recently now have standing water for extended periods. Minor flooding occurs due to changes in how land is being used upstream – like construction of impervious surfaces, rerouting of drainage pathways, or even removing a stand of trees.

Major flooding is often catastrophic and requires levels of intervention well outside the scope of this website. Major flooding occurs when large volumes of water after a significant rainfall event run off the landscape with nowhere to go.

When to get help

Determining which management practice is most appropriate to manage stormwater on your site may require consultation with an expert or participation in some basic training offered by your local county, Extension, or conservation district. This website seeks to outline some options, but is not provided as a substitute for professional advice. Please consult with your local planning department and be familiar with the stormwater ordinances in place in your area.

About this website

This website provides resources for rural stormwater managers, property owners, and people interested in sustainable and beneficial ways to handle the water that runs off their property.

This site is intended to help those with minor flooding and standing water on their properties and not to address issues related to widespread or major flooding.

This site was developed by Washington State University Extension and the Washington Stormwater Center. The project is supported by an Advisory Committee of industry professionals.

Much of the information on this site is based on a white paper titled: Rural Property Surface Water Management; Surface Dispersion Infiltration Trenches and Bioinfiltration swales.

Logos of WSU Extension, WA Dept. of Ecology and Washington Stormwater Center