Rainwater Management: 
Green Infrastructure

In natural landscapes, rain that falls on the ground mostly soaks, or infiltrates, into the soil.  However, in urban areas, impervious surfaces such as roofs, pavement, and streets, prevent infiltration. As rain and excess irrigation water flow over these paved surfaces, they can pick up pollutants and carry them into local storm drains, local creeks, and the Bay.

Cities and towns in Santa Clara Valley are working together to create sustainable or green streets, buildings, and parking lots that mimic natural landscapes, by incorporating green infrastructure. These features allow rainwater flowing over buildings, streets, and parking lots to soak into the ground and be filtered by soil. This reduces the quantity of water and pollutants flowing into storm drains and local creeks.

This page provides videos, technical guidance, and other resources to help implement green infrastructure projects for rainwater harvesting (rain barrels, cisterns, rain gardens, and more) and stormwater management (bioretention areas, bioswales, green roofs, permeable pavement, among other options).


NEW: Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Rainwater Capture Rebates!!  Through our Landscape Rebate Program online application process, residents and business owners can apply to:

  • Receive a rebate up to $35 per qualifying rain barrel installed to collect rainwater from existing downspouts,

  • Receive a rebate of $0.50 per gallon for diverting existing downspouts to qualifying cisterns, and

  • Receive a rebate of $1 per square foot of roof area diverted (up to $300 per site) into an installed rain garden to collect roof water runoff.

Projects that have been started or projects that have already been completed prior to application approval are not eligible. For more info on this rebate.

  • At the scale of a city or county, green infrastructure refers to the patchwork of natural areas that provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water.

    • Projects may include wetland preservation, protection of open spaces, and curb cuts to help redirect rainwater from the street into landscapes.

  • At the scale of a neighborhood or project site, green infrastructure refers to stormwater management systems that mimic nature by soaking up and storing water.

    • Projects may include permeable parking lots and green roofs.

  • At the residential scale, rain gardens that treat and temporarily retain runoff from downspouts and driveways are the most applicable and accessible type of green infrastructure to install yourself.

    • Projects may include rain barrels and rain gardens.


Green infrastructure provides many benefits to the community. In addition to improving water quality, green infrastructure is also viewed as an outlet to create or enhance recreational and public use areas by creating attractive streetscapes and habitat, reducing the heat island effect, and increasing accessibility for multiple modes of transportation.

Click here for examples throughout Santa Clara County to inspire your own projects! 

For an overview of these exciting opportunities to conserve water while creating healthier ecosystems within our communities, click here.   Or click here for a more technical yet accessible overview.

Sustainable Landscapes vs. Conventional Landscapes - What's the difference?

Conventional landscapes tend to feature plants that need lots of water or may need frequent use of gasoline-powered equipment to manage them properly. Also, conventional landscapes often rely on pesticides and fertilizers to promote healthy growth. Rain or excess irrigation water can transport these pollutants down street gutters and into storm drains, which empty directly into the nearest creek and the San Francisco Bay. Such pollution is harmful to fish, wildlife, and human health.  

Comprehensive list of creek-friendly improvements to your yard

Capture Rainwater

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Your yard can actually retain and clean rainwater. Capturing and storing rainwater reduces the need for irrigation with precious drinking water. Using permeable pavement, rain gardens, swales, or dry creek beds, you’ll help reduce peak runoff during rain events, allowing the soil to soak up rainfall and give soil microbes a chance to filter some of the pollutants. These features may also add a unique, creative look to your landscape.  Or, with proper permitting, rainwater can be captured and used indoors for flushing toilets or even washing your clothes.


Did you know that one of the most common problems with rain barrels is mosquito breeding? Thousands of mosquitoes can emerge from standing water inside a rain barrel. Follow these three simple steps to eliminate mosquitoes:

1.       Cover the barrel and all openings

2.       Empty barrels on a regular basis

3.       Keep the lid clear of standing water

Do your part to prevent West Nile and Zika virus outbreaks!


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Rain barrel and cisterns for smaller projects.

For general Rainwater Harvesting info, please click here.

Raingardens and Bioretention areas

Tips for Installing dry creek beds and bioswales

Direct Stormwater to your Landscape: Designs & Techniques

Pervious Pavement Material Guide

For more information on green roofs, rain gardens, infiltration trenches, pervious surfaces, creek-friendly improvements, and other stormwater improvements, click here.

Watershed Watch Campaign to Protect our Creeks and Bay

How to Videos:

For developers, builders, and project applicants to meet local municipal requirements for stormwater management projects: 

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§  Chapter 6: Stormwater Treatment and Design Measures

§  Appendix D: Plant List and Planting Guidance

Fact sheets, Green Building information, and other resources from the City of Palo Alto

Still have questions? Check out the UC Master Gardener’s rain garden blog for additional overviews, resources, and guidance.


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The following resources developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is geared toward municipalities to assist implementation and evaluation of rainwater harvesting, stormwater management, and other green infrastructure.


Please see the Santa Clara County resources above. The guides below should be for reference only: