It’s a problem on every street. It’s a problem in every parking lot. Every sidewalk, every driveway, yard and garden also play a part in the problem. The problem isn’t going away and it’s getting more and more serious–so I hope you’ll do your part to try to change things! The name of the problem–stormwater runoff–doesn’t sound like much of a problem at all. In fact, it’s so un-alarming I’m afraid you won’t read the rest of this article! But, for all of our sakes, please do.
Stormwater is water from rain (or melting snow in some states) that doesn’t soak into the ground. Rather, it shoots down the path from rooftops, right over paved areas and bare ground, and across sloped lawns, taking with it all kinds of things. Among the things the stormwater carries are pine bark mulch, cigarette butts, small toys, gum wrappers and...pet waste (feces), leaves, oil and grease, antifreeze, pesticides, salt, fertilizers and other potential pollutants.
You can now begin to see, no matter what, the reality is that stormwater, even storm drains and sewers, carries runoff from your neighborhood to the nearest body of water! That’s terrible! Contrary to popular belief, storm sewers do not carry stormwater to wastewater treatment plants. Instead, polluted stormwater goes right into our lakes, rivers, wetlands and ocean bays.
Still can’t see the problem with this? Soil clouds water and degrades habitats for fish and water plants. Fertilizer nutrients (like phosphorus) promote the growth of algae, which crowds out other aquatic life. The toxic chemicals coming from cars (antifreeze, oil, etc.) along with generously applied pesticides and zinc from galvanized gutters threaten the health of fish and other aquatic life. Pet wastes can flow into nearby streams and lakes making them unsafe for swimming...not to mention we eventually drink this stuff!
Hopefully you now clearly see the problem. Stormwater is unavoidable, but we can reduce its harmful effect by keeping harmful chemicals and materials out of the runoff.
The assessment chart shows a few examples of ways we can begin to do some things to help keep stormwater runoff less polluted. There are many others! Hopefully we can look at these and learn more in months to come. But this is a good start!
Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, New & Nontraditional Programs division.