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What is stormwater?

Jun 07, 2017 • by City of Reading Council Corner Newsletter
Stormwater...why should YOU care?

What is stormwater?

Stormwater is water from rain or melting snow that does not soak into the ground. It flows from rooftops, over paved areas, bare soil, and sloped lawns. As it flows, stormwater runoff collects and transports animal waste, litter, salt, pesticides, fertilizers, oil & grease, soil and other potential pollutants.

What’s the problem?

Rain and snowmelt wash pollutants from streets, construction sites, and land into storm sewers and ditches. Eventually, these empty the polluted stormwater directly into streams and rivers with no treatment. This is known as stormwater pollution.

Polluted stormwater degrades our lakes, rivers, wetlands and other waterways. Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen can cause the overgrowth of algae resulting in oxygen depletion in waterways. Toxic substances from motor vehicles and careless application of pesticides and fertilizers threaten water quality and can kill fish and other aquatic life. Bacteria from animal wastes and improper connections to storm sewer systems can make lakes and waterways unsafe for wading, swimming and fish consumption. Eroded soil is a pollutant as well. It clouds the waterway and interferes with the habitat of fish and plant life.

A sanitary sewer system and a storm sewer system are not the same. Water that goes down a sink or other inside drain flows to either a wastewater treatment plant or to a septic system for treatment. Storm sewer flows are not treated. Water that flows down driveways, streets, and outside areas into a storm sewer or ditch flows directly to nearby creeks, fish and wildlife habitats, downstream recreational areas, and drinking water supplies.

There are many types of pollutants that find their way into storm drains. Some common pollutants found in storm sewers and creeks include:

Animal wasteLitterMotor oilYard clippingsFertilizers and pesticidesSoapy car wash waterEroded sediment from construction projects

It’s important to remember that any type of surface water runoff, not just rainfall, can run into the storm sewer and collect in the stormwater management system. For example, when you wash your car on the driveway, that water, dirt, and grime ends up in the system. That’s why we need to be careful with what we put into the storm sewers as traces of all this material can end up in the stormwater system and our local waterways.

What can YOU do to prevent stormwater pollution?

1. Remember: Only rain belongs in the drain!

Don’t dump anything down storm drains. Be sure to clear away leaves and debris.

2. Take your car to a commercial car wash where wastewater is either recycled or treated

Don’t send the wastewater into the storm sewer.

3. Keep your car well-maintained.

Fix any fluid leaks promptly and make sure to clean up any spills. If you perform your own automotive maintenance, automotive repair shops will accept 5 gallons of used motor oil per resident per day.

4. Consider disconnecting your downspouts.

You can plant a rain garden to absorb stormwater runoff. You can also use a rain barrel to help collect runoff from your roof and gutters to be used on your lawn and garden.

5. Use lawn or garden chemicals sparingly.

Choose organic alternatives when possible and check the weather forecast to avoid applying them before a storm.

6. Mow your lawn less often.

Try to keep your lawn at least 3″ in height to minimize weed growth, reduce the need for watering, and decrease the likelihood of pests. Leaving the clippings on the lawn can also help block weeds and retain moisture. Sweep your sidewalks and driveway rather than hosing them down.

7. Minimize runoff by not over-watering your lawn and garden.

Keep sprinklers on a timer to avoid pooling water.

9. Clean up pet waste.

Bag up pet waste and dispose of it in the trash to prevent harmful bacteria from washing into local waterways.

10. Be sure to minimize the amount of ice-melt used.

Do not over-apply salt. Choose a more environmentally-friendly alternative when possible.

11. Consider minimizing impervious surfaces around your home.

Use bricks, gravel, cobbles, natural stone, or permeable pavers instead of asphalt or concrete when possible.

12. Keep your septic system well-maintained to prevent leaks.

A leaking septic system can leach harmful bacteria into storm sewer systems and local waterways. It is important to keep your system well-maintained to prevent costly repairs as well. 

13. Install a rain barrel or cistern to capture roof runoff.

This helps prevent stormwater from reaching waterways and reduces the potential for pollution.

Learn more about the Reading Environmental Advisory Council’s (EAC) rain barrel program at ReadingPA.gov.

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