Picture the grime of city streets – oil, grease and soot from cars and trucks, pet waste, trash and litter, sediment and debris from construction sites, and a mix of toxic chemicals. Now picture the same streets after a rainstorm. They look cleaner, right? Sure, but the debris and contaminants haven’t just disappeared – they’ve been swept through street drains and underground pipes, then washed directly into nearby rivers, lakes and streams.
Wherever humans have paved or built over the natural world, dirty rainwater tends to run straight into our waterways, contaminating the water, destroying habitat and damaging property. Known as urban runoff, this type of pollution can have serious consequences, from fouling drinking water to closing beaches and poisoning shellfish beds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now considers urban runoff and pollution from diffuse sources the greatest contaminant threat to our nation’s waters. The good news is that there are a number of proven methods that towns and cities can use to reduce runoff pollution.
Washing your car and degreasing auto parts at home can send detergents and other contaminants through the storm sewer system. Dumping automotive fluids into storm drains has the same result as dumping the materials directly into a waterbody.
- Use a commercial car wash that treats or recycles its wastewater, or wash your car on the grass so the water infiltrates into the ground.
- Repair leaks and dispose of used auto fluids and batteries at designated drop-off or recycling locations.
Pet waste can be a major source of bacteria and excess nutrients in local waters.
When walking your pet, remember to pick up the waste and dispose of it properly. Flushing pet waste is the best disposal method. Leaving pet waste on the ground increases public health risks by allowing harmful bacteria and nutrients to wash into the storm drain and eventually into local waterbodies.
Trash and Litter
Debris such as plastic bags, six pack rings, bottles and cigarette butts — washed into waterbodies can choke, suffocate, or disable aquatic life like ducks, fish, turtles, and birds.
Dispose of trash and litter in an approved receptacle.
Erosion controls that aren’t maintained can cause excessive amounts of sediment and debris to be carried into the storm water system.
- Divert storm water away from disturbed or exposed areas of the construction site.
- Install silt fences, vehicle mud removal areas, vegetative cover, and other sediments and erosion controls and properly maintain them, especially after rainstorms.
- Prevent soil erosion by minimizing disturbed areas during construction projects, and seed and mulch bare areas as soon as possible.
Excess fertilizers and pesticides applied to lawns and gardens wash off and pollute streams.
- Don’t overwater your lawn. Consider using a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler.
- Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly; use organic mulch or safer pest control methods whenever possible.
- Compost or mulch yard waste. Cover piles of dirt or mulch being used in landscaping projects.
Leaking and poorly maintained septic systems release nutrients and pathogens (bacteria and viruses) that can be picked up by storm water and discharged into nearby water bodies. Pathogens can cause public health problems and environmental concerns.
- Have your septic system inspected by a professional at least every 3 years and pump your tank as necessary (every 3 to 5 years).
- Don’t dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
By practicing healthy household habits, homeowners can keep common pollutants like automotive fluids, pet waste, trash, and pesticides off the ground and out of storm water.
Adopt these healthy household habits and help protect lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and coastal waters. Remember to share the habits with your neighbor.