Managing Stormwater on Your Church Property
Did you know that you “own” the rain that falls on your church property, and you are legally responsible for how it flows off your property? Most every jurisdiction has rules and regulations that the civil engineering community must abide by in the design of your site and water runoff system. These regulations are not a result of local whimsy, but usually of a county and state-wide comprehensive stormwater management plan. This plan is designed to protect our downstream neighbors from flooding, regardless of the rain event, so compliance is not optional.
A retention pond or other water management system may be required on your property to collect and evenly disperse water in the event of extreme downpours. Though critical for preventing flooding, these types of water management solutions eat up prime real estate, which could be used for parking or other church building space.
Parking lots, on the other hand, are also a prime place for stormwater to pool and run off. There are ways, however, to be creative with site design to maximize parking while balancing the requirements for water retention.
Two often overlooked solutions for maximizing parking spaces are permeable paver parking areas and under-parking water retention areas. Both are more costly than installing a traditional parking plate (e.g. an impervious paved parking lot). However, when compared against the high cost of relocating your church or buying additional non-attached property for parking, these water management solutions may prove more cost-effective in the long run.
Community Christian Church (Yellow Box location) in Naperville, Illinois, desperately needed to add more parking at their Yellow Box location. They faced the decision of whether to relocate their church to a place that provided a suitable number of parking spaces for the size of their congregation, or find a creative work-around for the retention pond that was taking up valuable property that could have been used for parking. They opted to absorb the cost of building an underground water storage system. This meant draining the retention pond, installing a network of concrete cisterns, and then paving over the top. In using this method, Community Christian met their municipality’s requirements for a water management system and they were able to add much-needed parking to their facility. Below is a time-lapse video of the installation of Community Christian's underground water storage system.
Water management practice
All states have a division of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that enforces “Best Management Practices” (BMP) for stormwater quality. The goal of BMP design is to create a natural filtration system that will, in turn, reduce the loads on mechanical filtration, which ultimately produces our drinking water. You may have heard of site features such as “rain gardens” and “bio-swales.” These are two techniques that are part of BMP design your local civil engineer will have to consider as he or she designs your site for your building and parking. Again, compliance is not optional. Many churches meet the requirements of the EPA or other local municipal agencies begrudgingly. It can be hard to understand the ministry opportunity of laying underground water piping and filtration. But if you’re proactive about whether or not your church needs to comply with water management regulations, you can leverage stormwater management for ministry.
Finally, churches are an important presence in every community. When churches address the environmental and water management issues that go along with designing their building, including the parking lot, they have an opportunity to work with their local city engineers and water management officials. Churches that work closely with these folks are much more apt to leave a favorable impression on their local leaders than those who don’t. Unfortunately, far too many churches fail to see the opportunity they have to make an impact in their community just by engaging well with civic leaders throughout the process.
Consider your church. Can you beautify your lot so that it’s an attractive feature of your church and not a functional eyesore? Are there simple changes you can make, such as incorporating landscaping, that could make your parking lot a visually pleasing entry point to your church, as well as an asset to the community? Are there ways you could improve the environmental impact of water run-off?
Remember, if you’re considering a church expansion or renovation, and a bigger parking lot is on your wish list, don’t short-change this critical area of your overall church building project.
Generally speaking, a parking lot is not the most aesthetically pleasing feature of a church campus. Because the parking lot is viewed by every potential visitor throughout the week, and it serves as the main entrance to your facility, shouldn’t it become a feature that helps creates your first impression? It may be time to start thinking about the implications of a well-designed church parking lot, and the impressions their poorly planned counterparts make on visitors.
How about at your church? Is there more you can do to protect the environment around you from the ill effects of stormwater runoff, whether or not your city codes require this? What creative solutions have you used to beautify your parking lot and make it an attractive addition to your church facility instead of just a necessary nuisance?