5 Ways Homeowners Impact Detention Basins

During storms, water is usually absorbed into natural surfaces like soil and vegetation. However, if the stormwater lands on a hard surface such as sidewalks, roadways and rooftops, the stormwater cannot be absorbed and will run-off, likely to a nearby stormwater detention basin. Detention basins, or detention ponds, collect and store stormwater to prevent flooding and erosion of local waterways.

These detention basins can be found near residential and commercial areas. They can create a beautiful environment for homeowners to enjoy and increase property value as a result. However, if the detention pond is not maintained, it can become unsightly and lose function. Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are responsible for the maintenance of their stormwater ponds, but it is important to note that residents also impact the condition of detention basins.

Another reason residents should consider their impact: Detention basins release water to local waterways, so the condition of detention ponds affects water quality, the health of your local watershed and of your community.

5 ways you can impact detention basins:

1. Trash

Trash that is not disposed of properly can be picked up by stormwater run-off and washed into the detention basin. Large amounts of trash in the detention pond will accumulate in water inlet and outlet pipes and block water flow. Any trash in the detention pond can also end up in local waterways, which has a broader impact on the health of the watershed and your community.

Stormwater run-off brings litter into detention basins. Be sure to dispose of trash properly!

2. Herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer

Stormwater run-off will introduce chemicals used on lawns into the detention basin. Since this source of water is not cleaned by a water treatment plant, chemicals washed into the detention basin will eventually end up in our local waterways. These chemicals harm aquatic life and wildlife that live in and around that body of water.

3. Yard waste

Dumping leaves and grass clippings into the water (or storm drains that lead to detention ponds) will also block the water inlet and outlet pipes of the detention pond and decrease the flow of water. These materials will also increase the amount of nutrients in the water. When a large amount of nitrogen or phosphorous are present in the water, algae rapidly multiply (called algae bloom) and turn the water green.

Stormwater can bring excess nutrients (often from lawn fertilizer, grass clippings, leaves, sediment, and pet waste) into a detention pond, causing algae to proliferate.

4. Over-mowing near detention ponds

Native vegetation near the detention basin deters any pesky wildlife, like geese, limits the amount of chemicals and debris that enter the basin, and prevents shoreline erosion. Mowing too close to the shoreline can facilitate erosion and deterioration of a detention pond.

5. Pets

Any pet waste that is left on the ground can be picked up by stormwater run-off and introduced into the detention basin. Animal waste contains bacteria and nutrients that will degrade the water quality and affect aquatic life living in the detention basin.

Stormwater can carry pet waste into your local detention basin, affecting water quality and aquatic life. It’s important to be a responsible pet owner.

How you can sustain an effective and beautiful detention basin:

  1. Properly dispose of trash and recyclables. When taking walks around your neighborhood, consider picking up litter to prevent it from ending up in the detention pond. 
  2. Do not dump anything into the detention pond or storm drain and be mindful of how you dispose of yard waste.
  3. Limit chemical use to what is necessary (and reduce usage if possible!).
  4. Keep grass long near the shoreline of the detention pond.
  5. Be responsible for picking up your pet’s waste.
  6. Talk to your HOA about planting a native buffer. A vegetative buffer of native plants around a detention basin can beautify your neighborhood while preventing contaminants, like chemicals, litter, and pet waste, from reaching the water. 
  7. Educate your neighbors about the purpose of a detention basin and how our everyday actions can have an impact. Share how they can contribute to a well-functioning detention basin that regulates stormwater run-off while adding aesthetic value to your neighborhood!

Additional Resources:
  1. Video: “Stormwater Pond Maintenance for Homeowners,”
    Tippecanoe County Partnership for Water Quality, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgmxXfkW1hI
  2. “Maintaining Your Detention Basin,” Assembly of Rouge Communities,http://www.wbtownship.org/document_center/Maintaining_Detention_Basins.pdf

Benefits of Native Buffers for Detention Basins

No one wants to deal with a flooded basement or maneuver around submerged streets after a storm. Unfortunately, the risk of flooding increases with suburban development—native vegetation, soil, and landscape depressions that store stormwater are replaced with impermeable surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and rooftops. Rainwater easily runs off these surfaces, putting more strain on our waterways and stormwater infrastructure.

Detention ponds, also called detention basins or retention ponds, are important structures that help prevent flooding. A detention pond is a man-made area that collects and releases stormwater run-off into local waterways.

While man-made detention ponds are effective for reducing flooding, they do not treat and clean water as successfully as wetlands. A deteriorating detention pond often releases murky, green water into local waterways, effecting the health of our watershed and our community. 

A native buffer, or strip of native vegetation, can be added around the shoreline to restore a deteriorating detention pond. Some signs of a deteriorating detention pond:

  • Eroded shoreline
  • Increased animal droppings
  • Murky water
  • Algae bloom

5 benefits of adding a native buffer to a detention pond

1. Reduces shoreline erosion

Shoreline erosion can cause nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are naturally found in soil, to be introduced into a detention pond and lead to algae bloom. A native buffer, made up of native plants with deep root systems, reduces the risk of shoreline erosion by stabilizing the soil.

An example of shoreline erosion. A native buffer, made up of plants with deep roots, can better stabilize the soil.

2. Minimizes water contamination

Native buffers also reduce the amount of chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, from entering the detention basin (and eventually downstream bodies of water) through stormwater run-off. Native plants, well adapted to local environmental conditions, do not require the use of herbicides or pesticides.

3. Lowers maintenance requirements

Having a native buffer around a detention pond also decreases the amount of mowing required. Grasses should be allowed to remain long around native vegetation to create a dense buffer, reducing the amount of chemical run-off into the detention basin.

4. Discourages unwanted wildlife and animal waste contamination

Having a native buffer serves as a barrier to discourage pesky wildlife, such as geese, from lingering around the detention basin. The buffer also works to reduce the amount of animal waste that is introduced into the detention basin. Animal waste contains bacteria and nutrients which will run-off into ponds and deteriorate the water conditions.

Without a vegetative buffer, geese can easily access ponds.

5. Adds aesthetic value to the neighborhood

A native buffer creates a beautiful aesthetic environment for the community while adding the beneficial factors of keeping the waterways healthier. A beautiful and well-maintained detention pond can also increase property values.

It is also important to note that some native plants are better suited for certain environmental conditions, such as having deeper roots to gather water and stabilize the soil. Ensure that the environmental conditions will support the native vegetation by checking factors such as sunlight, water, soil quality and climate.

Additional resources on native buffers:
  1. “Native Buffer Program,” Little Rock Lake Association, https://littlerocklake.org/native_buffer_program
  2. “Natural Landscaping Design Guidelines,” Village of Plainfield, https://www.plainfield-il.org/pages/documents/NaturalLandscapingDesignGuidelines.pdf

Stormwater Detention Basin Basics

What is the purpose of a detention pond?

A stormwater detention pond, or detention basin, is a man-made pond in residential and commercial areas that collects stormwater run-off from surrounding landscapes, roads, and rooftops. The detention pond temporarily holds stormwater until it slowly releases into a local waterway.

Depending on its design, some detention basins are dry-bottomed and all the water drains between storms. Some are more pond-like and hold open water all of the time. Finally, some are more wetland-like with a mix of water and vegetation.

All three types are designed to hold a specified amount of stormwater (storage capacity) based on the need of the development. Local ordinance governs the storage capacity and the release rate of a detention basin.

What are the benefits of a detention pond?

Detention basins reduce the rate at which stormwater enters local waterways. By temporarily storing stormwater, a detention pond can prevent flooding.

They also prevent flooding in homes. Since detention ponds capture stormwater run-off from surrounding landscapes and rooftops, stormwater collects in the basin instead of homeowners’ properties.

Detention ponds help to keep pollutants and sediment out of the streams and other waterways by allowing them to settle at the bottom of the detention pond. However, pollutants and debris can degrade a detention pond’s water quality, often leading to murky water and a thick layer of algae.

Therefore, steps should be taken to manage both the function and aesthetic of detention ponds. If properly maintained, detention ponds can regulate stormwater while being an attractive feature for residents in the area, providing opportunities to enjoy nature and increasing property value at the same time.

What are signs of a deteriorating detention pond?

  • Murky Water: Stormwater run-off can carry sediment and other particles into the detention pond from surrounding landscapes and cause murky or cloudy water.
  • Algae Bloom: Stormwater run-off carries nutrients from fertilizers, sediment, animal waste and other sources into the detention basin. An increase in available nutrients allows algae to flourish. Abundant algae impacts aquatic life by blocking sunlight and decreasing oxygen levels in the water.
  • Shoreline erosion: If the detention basin does not have any deeply rooted plants to stabilize the soil, shoreline erosion can occur. The eroded soil adds nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into the water, encouraging algae growth.
Without deeply rooted plants to stabilize the soil, shoreline erosion is more likely to occur.

Who maintains stormwater detention ponds?

Neglected detention ponds can be unsightly and ineffective. Detention basins are usually maintained by your Homeowners Association (HOA). Residents who are unsure of the maintenance responsibilities of their local detention pond can contact their HOA.

How can you help maintain your local detention pond?

  1. Reduce lawn chemical usage: Reducing the amount of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used on your lawn limits how much chemicals stormwater run-off brings into the detention pond.  
  2. Pick up your pet’s waste: Animal waste contains bacteria which will run-off into the water and deteriorate water conditions as well as increase the health risks of people who use the water for recreational use.
  3. Do not litter: Make sure to dispose of trash and recyclables properly. Otherwise, stormwater can carry litter into the detention basin and block the basin’s water flow.
It’s important to dispose of trash properly–stormwater can carry litter into detention basins, often blocking inlet and outlet structures while impacting water quality and aquatic life.

  1. “Stormwater Pond Maintenance,” City of Naperville, https://www.naperville.il.us/residents/stormwater/stormwater-pond-maintenance/
  2. “Stormwater Detention Ponds,” Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/conservation/lake-notes/storm-water-detention-ponds/storm-water-detention-ponds.pdf

Adding Native Plants to Your Landscape

Looking to add native plants to your landscape this spring? While adapted to our area, native plants have preferences on where they’d like to be planted. Below are tips to consider when adding natives to your yard:

When designing your landscape:

  • Pay attention to the different types of native plants in your area. What have you seen thriving outside your local library or in your neighbor’s yard? Each native plant is adapted to specific environmental conditions, so identifying what grows well in your area is a great place to begin.
  • Consider the following when getting to know your garden site: How much sunlight is there? What is the soil type? Does this area drain well or is it often wet?
  • Determine your budget for the landscape and create a wish list of the native plants you would like to add to your garden. Find ideas on different types of native gardens (from butterfly gardens to shade loving gardens) here.
  • Some plants rapidly spread, so if you have a smaller landscape it is best to ask an expert if any of your choices may crowd out other plantings.  

Suggested time to plant native plants:

  • Herbaceous plants: Spring to early summer.
  • Trees and Shrubs: Fall, but can also be planted in the spring.
  • Bulbs: Late October to early November (before the ground freezes).

Preparing a garden to plant your native plants:

  • Begin by clearing the area you wish to plant. Invasive plants and aggressive weeds will compete with the native plants. It’s best to start your natives off with ample space for them to become established. Black plastic or even wetted down newspaper can be used to kill off an area of turf grass or weeds before preparing it to plant.
  • Compost is a natural fertilizer containing nutrients your new native plants will love. Consider amending your garden bed with compost from your own compost pile or bagged compost from your local garden center to help establish your new garden.

Maintaining your new native garden:

While native plants are adapted to this area and do not require as much maintenance as non-natives, they should still be checked on for things such as:

  • Water: Depending on how frequently it rains after you plant your garden, the amount of watering you will need to do will fluctuate. While native plants grow very deep roots, when they are first planted the roots are only as deep as the pot you took them out of and their root ball can dry out very quickly. Be sure to water routinely and deeply so that water reaches below the plant root ball. This method of watering will encourage the roots to grow downward when looking for water instead of encouraging them to grow up toward the surface where they will dry out quickly.
  • Weeds: The amount of weeding will decrease as your native plants grow and fill in, but until they are mature it’s best to keep them from having to compete with weeds. Using a shredded wood mulch helps to keep weeds at bay, as well as lock moisture into the soil below.

Ready to add native plants in your yard? Your local municipality and/or county-based Soil and Water Conservation District may also host annual native plant sales – keep your eye out in the spring!  You may also contact the following grower and suppliers for native plants:

Natural Communities Native Plants
812 N Washington Ave
Batavia, IL 60510

Possibility Place Nursery
7548 W. Monee-Manhattan Road
Monee, Illinois 60449

The Growing Place
2000 Montgomery Road
Aurora, IL 60504
25w471 Plank Road
Naperville, IL 60563

Native Plants 101

Native plants have increased in popularity over the years but there can be some confusion on what a native plant actually is. Native plants have evolved and adapted physically, chemically, and genetically to their local environment for a thousand years or more and are vital parts of the ecosystem.

If a plant is cultivated from a native plant, it is no longer considered to be native since it has been taken from the wild and altered for a specific characteristic. This process decreases genetic diversity, which is important for a native plant’s survival.

Choosing a Native Plant

Choosing native plants for your yard is dependent on your desired landscape design as well as environmental conditions (sun or shade, low wet spot or dry area, for example). Some things to keep in mind include:

  • Are the flowers fragrant?
  • Is it an annual (dies with frost), biannual (lives two years, blooming and reseeding itself the second year) or perennial (comes back every year)?
  • What wildlife and/or pollinators does it attract?
  • What are the soil, water and sunlight conditions needed for this plant to thrive?

Benefits of Native Plants in Your Landscape

  • Low-maintenance and cost-effective: Since native plants have adapted to live with local conditions and wildlife, they are resistant to many diseases and do not require the use of chemical fertilizers or biocides. This makes for lower-maintenance and cost-effective gardening.
  • Deep roots: Compared to non-native plants, they require less watering (once their roots are established). Native plants have developed a deep root system over time due to past droughts, which now allows them to bring water up from more than 10 feet underground. These deep roots help keep your plants alive through consecutive warm summer days with no rain and also improve soil quality, remove pollutants, and reduce stormwater run-off.
  • Great for the local ecosystem: Native plants have co-evolved with wildlife to provide food and shelter, as well as aiding in the formation of soils and filtration of water underground. In return, wildlife and other ecosystem components help native plants with photosynthesis, pollination, and seed dispersal.

Here are some native plant options for northeast Illinois:

Black-Eyed Susan

The Black-Eyed Susan is a biennial or short-lived perennial (life cycle ends in around 2 years) that grows to around 1 – 2 1/2 feet tall in preferably full sun and slightly moist soil. It has stems with long white hairs and florets that are bright yellow and attract insects such as bees, flies, and butterflies. To learn more, click here.

Prairie Phlox

The Prairie Phlox is a perennial plant (life cycle is more than 2 years) that grows to about 1/2 – 1 3/4 feet tall in full to partial sun. They have stems with spreading white hairs and lavender/pink flowers that emit a slight pleasant fragrance. The flowers are usually visited by long-tongued bees, butterflies and skippers. To learn more, click here.

Butterfly Milkweed

The Butterfly Milkweed is a perennial plant that grows from 1 – 2 1/2 feet tall in preferably full sun. They have long-lasting orange petals that do not emit a fragrance. The flowers’ nectar usually attracts honeybees. To learn more, click here.

Trumpet Penstemon

The Trumpet Penstemon is a perennial plant that grows about 2-3 feet tall preferably in full or partial sun. It has creamy white petals that are clustered together in intervals. The nectar of this flower attracts primary long-tongued bees such as bumblebees. To learn more, click here.

Prairie Dropseed

Prairie Dropseed is a perennial grass that forms dense tufts of narrow leaves that grow about 1-2 feet tall in preferably full sun. The seeds are usually eaten by sparrows and other birds, and occasionally the foliage is eaten by grasshoppers. To learn more, click here.

Looking to add one of these plants to your landscape?

Your local municipality and/or county-based Soil and Water Conservation District may host annual native plant sales – keep your eye out for sales each spring!  You may also contact the following grower and suppliers for native plants:

Natural Communities Native Plants
812 N Washington Ave
Batavia, IL 60510
Possibility Place Nursery
7548 W. Monee-Manhattan Road
Monee, Illinois 60449

The Growing Place
2000 Montgomery Road
Aurora, IL 60504
25w471 Plank Road
Naperville, IL 60563