How to Prevent Storm Water Pollution and Runoff

Here are some tips for construction managers on how to be a little greener.

Storm Water Pollution
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What Is Storm Water?

Storm water is water from melting snow or rain that does not get soaked up into the ground. It flows off rooftops, over driveways and other paved areas, sloped lawns, and bare soil. It collects and transports salt, fertilizers, animal waste, oil and other car fluids, soap, pesticides, and a variety of other pollutants.

Why Is This a Problem?

Storm water washes pollutants into ditches and storm sewers.

Over time, the pollutants drain directly into rivers and streams without treatment. Ingredients in storm water, like nitrogen and phosphorus, can cause overgrowth of algae, which results in the depletion of oxygen in waterways.

The pollutants in storm water can destroy entire ecosystems. They kill fish and other forms of aquatic life. The bacteria present in animal waste can make lakes and waterways unsafe for wading or swimming and make the fish caught in those waters unfit for consumption.

Even eroded soil that is washed into storm sewers by storm water is a pollutant. It clouds waterways and interferes with fish and plant habitats.

There are other types of pollutants that are carried into storm drains by storm water. Some common ones include:

  • Litter
  • Yard clippings
  • Soapy water (most commonly from car washing)
  • Eroded sediments

Any type of surface water runoff can find its way into a storm sewer.

If, for example, you wash your car in your driveway, the dirt and grime that comes off your car, along with the water, winds up in the storm drain system. This is why it is so important to be careful with what we allow into storm sewers. Traces of all of these things have potential to find their way into storm drains and waterways.

What You Can Do to Prevent Storm Water Pollution and Runoff

Here are a few things that can help keep storm water pollution out of your local waterways.

1. Do not introduce anything other than water into the drain. Never dump anything into a storm drain, and keep the drain as free of leaves and debris as possible.

2. Don't wash your car in the driveway. Wash the car over your lawn or on gravel. This will help the grime and soap to be absorbed and neutralized in the ground. Whenever possible, use biodegradable phosphate-free soaps for car washing or simply take your car to a commercial car wash where the water is treated or recycled.

3. Recycle motor oil and fix fluid leaks on your car. Most garages will accept used oil for recycling at no charge or for a small processing fee. Repairing leaks will help keep you from spreading storm water pollution around your community.

4. Collect storm water in a rain barrel. Disconnect your downspout and start collecting rain water to irrigate your garden or water your lawn. For new construction projects, consider eliminating the need for downspouts altogether and start with an alternative rain collection plan. Some great resources for managing your next construction project can be found here.

5. Cut back on lawn and garden chemicals. Most people apply more of these than needed. The excess does not absorb and winds up in storm sewers.

6. Reduce the frequency of lawn mowing. Lawns that maintain a 3-inch height are resistant to weed growth and require less water. You might also consider leaving the clippings on your lawn or buying a mulching lawn mower to eliminate the majority of them.

7. Don't overwater your lawn or garden. Excess water will run off before it is absorbed. Keep lawn sprinklers on a timer to avoid pooling.

8. Clean up after your pets. Remove pet waste from your lawn to prevent bacteria from entering waterways.

10. Don't over-apply ice melt. Choose products that are environmentally friendly and avoid using sand whenever possible.

11. Use permeable surfaces instead of concrete for driveways and walkways. Cobblestone and gravel help minimize runoff.

12. Never drain a pool, fountain, or spa into a storm drain. The chemicals in the water will quickly pollute any nearby waterway. Find out if your community has sanitary sewers you can use to drain large quantities of water.

13. Keep your septic system in good repair. Septic leaks release harmful bacteria into storm drains and waterways. Poorly maintained systems also lead to costly repairs.

All of these measures will help impede the introduction of harmful pollutants into waterways via storm sewers. Be sure that you are always maintaining an active role in minimizing the effects of storm water pollution and runoff in your community.

Some of the above examples are recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. More information is available on how to keep local waterways clean in this helpful document on storm water pollution and runoff.