Stormwater Pollution and How to Minimize Impact

Stormwater pollution is a very real and serious threat to our environment, and it is is a threat that we can address, and need to learn about to minimize our impact.

Stormwater is water from precipitation that does not soak into the ground. Stormwater pollution caused by rain, severe thunderstorms, or melting snow that flows along the environment, collecting, and transporting potential pollutants including: animal waste, litter, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, grease, and other harmful materials. This is a very large source of pollution which makes it's way into local waterways. Stormwater pollution and surface runoff is typically collected from from paved streets, parking lots, construction sites, our homes, and flow into storm sewers or ditches; eventually making it way without treatment into our streams and rivers.

It is important to note, and consider, that a storm sewer system is not the same as a sanitary sewer system. The water collected by storm sewers do not receive treatment. Stormwater that flows through our environment, and into these storm sewers head directly to nearby creeks, rivers, oceans. This will affect wildlife habitats and water quality. Even some drinking water can be affected by stormwater pollution and runoff.

Stormwater pollution is very threatening towards these ecosystems. An overgrowth of algae can be caused by collected nutrients including phosphorus and nitrogen. This overgrowth can result in oxygen depletion in waterways. Toxic materials collected including, motor oil, pesticides, and fertilizers can have a large impact on water quality and kill aquatic life and ecosystems. Water can also become unsafe for contact from the bacteria collected as stormwater runoff picks up animal waste. Eroded soil by stormwater can also affect the water interfering with animal and plant life.

Here are several things you can do to minimize the damage and pollution caused by stormwater:

1. Do not dump things down storm drains.
2. Wash your car with non-toxic soaps or over your lawn or gravel.
3. Maintain your car so that it does not leak fluids into the environment.
4. Pick up waste from your pets.
5. Cut off the flow of stormwater runoff with a rain garden or rain barrel.
6. Avoid excessive use of garden chemicals.
7. Mow your lawn less frequently and sweep away yard debree.
8. Plant things that are native and low maintenance.
9. Don’t over-water your lawn or garden. 
10. Limit chemicals used to melt any ice or snow.
11. Surfaces including bricks, gravel, or natural stone is better than asphalt or concrete to limit runoff.
12. Do not drain your pool or other water into storm drains.
13. Make sure your storm drain is not running if it has not been raining. Report this or any pollution to your local government or environmental services.
14. Maintain your septic system to prevent leaks.
15. Carpool or use other methods of transportation when possible.
16. Maintain a neighborhood stormwater pond to minimize environment damage.

Sources and more information:

“How Can YOU Prevent Stormwater Pollution?”, Erie County, NY Gov,

Humphrey, Corey, director. Stormwater Pollution & Green Infrastructure Solutions. Nassau SWCD, 27 Jan. 2016,

“Stormwater Management.” Stormwater Management, City of Wilmar,

Photograph from Portland Environmental services. Illustration created by City of Wilmar.