Stormwater - Simple Things You can do to Help!

What is Stormwater Runoff?

Stormwater runoff is the rain or snowmelt that runs off impervious surfaces (e.g. streets, parking lots, lawns, driveways, roofs, etc.) and flows into natural or manmade drainage systems.  In town or subdivisions, the water drains into the storm sewer conveyance system consisting of inlets and underground pipes.  Did you know the storm sewer system is separate from the sanitary sewer system (sinks, toilets, etc.) Sanitary sewer systems connect to wastewater treatment plants.  The storm sewer system discharges directly to our streams and rivers without being filtered.

So, what is the problem?

The problem is two fold.  The most obvious is the water quality impact.  Untreated stormwater carries pollutants such as fertilizer from lawns, oil and anti-freeze from parking lots, or sediment from construction sites. When this pollution enters the stream, it can cause algae blooms, a loss of fish and aquatic life, or public health issues such as beach closings at our lakes.

The other problem is increased runoff and flooding.   Impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and streets, capture rain that was previously able to infiltrate into the soil.  Traditional development transfers that water off the site as quickly as possible  Now, communities such as Columbia are realizing this rapid movement of water off-site is causing downstream flooding and property damage; channel erosion and destabilization; and a loss of fishing and recreational opportunities.

What can I do to help prevent stormwater pollution?

Reduce Home Runoff

Make sure your downspouts are directed somewhere in your yard rather than your driveway or the street.  Vegetation slows water down and allows the ground to absorb it, such as rain gardens. Rain gardens are shallow depressions that allow stormwater to be taken in by plants and soak into the ground instead of flowing into the street and down a storm drain or ditch. You can also use a rain barrel to capture rainwater from your roof and use it to water your lawn and garden.  Did you know you could save 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months?


Yard Care

Did you know mowing 3-4 inches high results in 80% fewer weeds?  The grass clippings also act as a natural fertilizer so turf grows thicker and doesn't require chemical fertilizers.  Keep leaves and grass clippings out of streets, ditches, storm drains and creeks.  Leaves and grass clippings can be mixed with household scraps such as vegetable peelings and egg shells to create a soil compost material that can be used in flower beds and as potting soil.  Use native plants in your landscape, as they are best adapted to local soils, precipitation amounts and pests.  Native plants do not require chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  If you do use fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, you should use them sparingly and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  Never apply before a rainfall event!

Car Care

Inspect and maintain your car regularly to prevent oil, antifreeze, and other fluid leaks.  Never dump or hose wastewater from spills into storm drains!  Use kitty litter to soak the spill up.  Dispose of the kitty litter in a trash can.  When washing your car, take it to a carwash or wash your car on your lawn and let the soapy water fertilize your yard.  Avoid washing your car on your driveway or in the street, as the nutrient rich wash water can flow into a creek or storm drain and cause algae blooms.

Pet Care

Pick up after your pet!  When walking your dog, always pick up your pet’s waste.  Properly dispose of pet waste by flushing it down the toilet or putting it in the trash.  Look for pet receptacles at public parks and in other public areas.

Dispose of Household Chemicals Properly

Always follow the instructions on the label and dispose of hazardous wastes responsibly.  Never dump household chemicals down sinks, toilets, etc, or storm drains!  Doing so endangers the quality of surface water and damages septic systems and wastewater treatment plants. 

Report Stormwater Pollution

Illegal dumping provides ideal breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes and rodents, lowers property values, hinders development and attracts criminal activity. It also encourages additional dumping since most illegal dumpers prefer to dump in areas that already have dumped items. Dumping costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and contaminates waterways and drinking water.  To report spills, dumping or draining of pollutants to the street, storm drain or water body click here.