Managing stormwater in urban and rural areas: Part 1

Stormwater is unavoidable. Reducing the amount of and pollutants in stormwater can significantly improve local water resources.

Stormwater is water from any form of precipitation, rain, melting snow, hail or sleet that but runs off rather than soaking into the ground. This runoff collects soil, silt, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, yard waste, pet waste, litter or any other pollutant and transports it to nearby drains or ditches.

A popular myth is that storm drains take storm water to water treatment plants for cleaning. Storm drains actually transport this water directly to the nearest open water – a stream, river, lake or drainage ditch. These all eventually end up in the water we use for fishing, boating or swimming.

Another myth is that only heavy storms result in pollution. In fact, a running garden hose can provide enough water to pollute.

Many communities and states are focusing their efforts for stormwater management on the urban and rural areas rather than wastewater plant discharges. While this change is more difficult, it can have greater impact. Wastewater plant discharges come from only a few sources while stormwater pollution sources are every driveway, sidewalk, street, yard, rooftop and parking lot.

There are two ways to reduce pollution from stormwater:

  • Reduce pollutants in the stormwater
  • Reduce the amount of stormwater runoff

As long as there is precipitation, there will be stormwater runoff. Reducing potential pollution will go a long way in keeping our local surface water safe.

Even naturally-occurring things can be potential pollutants, such as soil and grass clippings. Soil or sediment can and will cloud river and lake water and degrade fish and plant habitats. Grass clippings contain nitrogen and may contain other applied chemicals. If left on pavement to wash away, they can over fertilize the water causing algae growth.

Ways to reduce pollutants in stormwater:

  • Cover any bare soil areas with grass or mulch. If you’re renovating, put silt fencing around the area to prevent sediment runoff.
  • Keep all yard and garden products, water softener salt, pool and car chemicals in water proof containers and stored up away from potential water.
  • Use hazardous products in the amount recommended and follow application directions.
  • Clean up any spills (liquid or granule) immediately to prevent runoff. This includes fertilizers, pesticides, oil, grease, antifreeze and gasoline.
  • Use deicing products, including salt, on driveways and sidewalks, sparingly.
  • Pick up after your pets. Dog and cat droppings contain nutrients that promote algae growth in surface water. The also may contain organisms that can cause illness. Droppings should be picked up and flushed down the toilet.

Reducing pollutants is only half of the solution in protecting stormwater. Part 2 from Michigan State University Extension will discuss ways to reduce the amount of stormwater entering our local waters.

Other articles in this series:

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