When it rains, some of the rainwater soaks into the ground, and part of it flows over the ground and directly into creeks, the Santa Clara River, and the Pacific Ocean. This water that runs off into the river is called runoff or stormwater runoff.
Sometimes this stormwater runoff gets polluted. Stormwater pollution can be divided into three categories:
- Natural - organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, and sediment
- Chemical - such as detergents, coolant, oil, grease, fertilizer, and paint
- Litter - such as plastic bags and cigarette butts
- All of these pollutants are related to our own household, community behaviors, and the behaviors of business and industry. We all have a role to play to prevent stormwater pollution. Sometimes the pollution is something you can see, like trash floating on top of the water. Other times you cannot see the pollution at all, like when motor oil from a car washes into a nearby creek. For years, various government agencies have been working with industrial and commercial sites to ensure pollutants coming from their locations are kept to a minimum.
Polluted runoff is now one of the leading causes of water pollution in the United States. So, who is to blame? Who is making the water that we drink and swim polluted? We all are... take a look.
- Do you ever see people throw trash out of cars or just throw it on the ground while walking? Litter on the street washes into the gutters in the streets, goes through the storm drains, and then ends up in our Santa Clara River and Pacific Ocean. Common trash such as plastic bags, wrappers, six-pack rings, bottles, and cigarette butts get washed down the storm drain and can choke, suffocate, or disable aquatic life, like ducks, fish, turtles, and birds. That tiny cigarette butt can take 25 years to break down! It looks disgusting and can harm drinking water. So, do not litter. Take pride in your community.
Lawn and Yard Care
- Some people use fertilizer on lawns to help them grow. When people use more fertilizer than their lawn needs, or if they fertilize just before it rains, a lot of that fertilizer ends up in stormwater runoff and not on the lawn. You know what happens next... down the storm drain and into the river.
Fertilizer helps plant life grow, but when it gets in water, it helps algae grow. Algae blooms can cause major problems in waterways because they use up oxygen needed to support aquatic life. What can people do who want to fertilize their lawn? Only use as much fertilizer as the lawn needs and try not to fertilize before it rains. Please monitor your watering systems so you don’t over water your landscaping. Another thing to think about is the grass clippings and yard trimmings left after people mow the lawn and trim the bushes. Putting grass clippings, leaves, and yard debris in the street or storm drain can cause problems for you and your water. Storm drains can clog, streets can flood, and water can become polluted. To avoid this, use clippings as fertilizer, use a mulching lawn mower, compost leaves and clippings, or put them in the greenwaste bin for collection day.
Pets and Animals
- Does your family own a dog? Do you know other people with a dog? What do you think happens to all of the dog waste our pets leave behind? Right... down the storm drain and into the water! When you think about how many people own dogs, this can really build up! Dog waste contains bacteria that can harm people. When people don’t pick up after their dogs, the bacteria and other pathogens can wash into swimming areas and into our drinking water and create health hazards, often making beach closures necessary. Pet owners can improve water quality by picking up after their pets and throwing their pet's waste into a trash can.
Household Hazardous Waste Products
- Common household products like cleaning solutions, insecticides, pesticides, paint, solvents, used motor oil and other auto fluids can poison aquatic life and turn entire bodies of water into polluted waters if they reach the storm drain. Animals and people can become sick or die from eating poisoned fish and shellfish or drinking polluted water.
Buy and use only the amount of household products you are going to need. If you have to, you can dispose of excess or unused portions as household hazardous waste (HHW) at designated collection centers. Always follow the directions on the labels and never put any of these products down the storm drain or in the trash.
So, you can see that many causes of stormwater pollution are activities that people do everyday. Many people do not even know that what they do is polluting their water.
What can you do to help?
So now that you know more about what polluted runoff is, where it comes from, and how it affects you, what can you do about it? You make choices everyday in your home, at school, at work, and with your money that can effect storm water pollution.
- Many times people pollute water and don't know they are doing it. Now that you have the facts about polluted runoff, teach other people about it.
- Never dump anything down the street or into the storm drain! It is meant only for rain water.
- Don't litter! And tell your friends and neighbors not to litter, too!
- Clean up after your pet! Bring bags along when you walk your dog and encourage others to do the same.
- Don't leave grass clippings and leaves in the street when you do yard work. Use them for fertilizer, compost them, or dispose of them in your green waste bin.
- Never clean paint brushes or rinse paint containers into a street, gutter, or storm drain. Clean water-based paint tools in a sink or dispose of oil-based paint products as household hazardous waste.
- Wash out concrete mixers, tools, and equipment only in areas where the water does not go into the street, gutter, or storm drain.
- Use water wisely, and encourage others to do the same. You can collect water from downspouts in rain barrels. This will reduce runoff, as well as the size of the water bill!
What can I do if I see someone dumping something into the gutter or catch basin? Who can I call if I see something in the gutter and I don't know what it is?
- To report illegal dumping and discharges to the storm drain system, call the City's Stormwater Hotline immediately at (661) 222-7222.
West Nile Virus
- Protect yourself and your family. Important facts and safety tips about West Nile Virus may be found at the LA County’s Vector Control District