From the Archives: Stormwater Runoff and You

Conservation // September 14, 2016

One in an occasional series in which FOW publishes articles that appeared in our publications in the past and still resonate with us today. This article was written by Martha Maxwell-Doyle, currently Project Coordinator for the Barnegat Bay Partnership. At the time this article was first published, she was Deputy Director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. This piece first appeared in FOW’s Summer 2006 Newsletter.

Stormwater Runoff and You

by Martha Maxwell-Doyle

Stormwater runoff occurs when water from rain or melted snow flows over impermeable surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks, and streets. Rather than naturally soaking into the ground, this stormwater picks up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants on its way into sewers. It is

then discharged as untreated runoff into the water bodies we use for swimming, fishing, drinking water, and more. Fortunately, there are a variety of measures individual citizens like you can take to combat the effects of stormwater runoff. These measures include:

Residential Stormwater Management

  • Recycle or properly dispose of household products that contain chemicals, and never pour these products onto the ground or into storm drains.
  • Do not over water your lawn, and use a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler.
  • Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly. When use of these products is necessary, apply them in recommended amounts.
  • Use organic mulch or nontoxic pest control methods whenever possible.
  • Compost or mulch debris from your yard. Never leave debris in the street or sweep it into a storm drain where nutrients and organic matter can collect.
  • Cover piles of dirt or mulch so the wind does not blow them away.

Septic System Management

  • Inspect your septic system and pump your tank every three to five years. Doing so prevents nutrients, bacteria, and viruses from entering nearby waterways.
  • Do not dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.

Automobile Care

  • Use a commercial car wash that treats or recycles its wastewater, or wash your car on grass so water infiltrates into the ground.
  • Repair leaks and dispose of used automotive fluids, batteries, and degreasers at designated drop-off points or recycling centers.

Pet Waste Disposal

  • When walking your pet, pick up its waste. Flushing pet waste is the most effective method of disposal. Leaving it on the ground increases public health risks by allowing harmful bacteria and nutrients to wash into storm drains, and eventually into local bodies of water.

Landscaping Practices

When landscaping your property, consider using environment-friendly methods, such as:

  • Permeable Pavement. Traditional concrete and asphalt do not allow water to soak into the ground. Permeable pavement, on the other hand, allows stormwater to soak through, decreasing quantities of runoff.
  • Rain Barrels. Use mosquito-proof containers to collect rainwater from rooftops for use on your lawn or garden areas.
  • Rain Gardens and Grassy Swales. Specially designed areas filled with native vegetation can provide natural places for rainwater to collect and soak into the ground. Rain from rooftops or paved surfaces can also be diverted to these spots rather than into storm drains.
  • Vegetated Filter Strips. Filter strips are areas of native grass or plants created along roadways and streams. They trap the pollutants that runoff carries as it flows across driveways and streets.