How to Reduce Storm Water Pollution

In Florida, we get an average 55 to 60 inches of rainfall each year. Most of that rain falls from June to November, during our wet season. All that rain is funneled into our waterways through our carefully designed communities. The rain travels over driveways, roads, alleyways, lawns, yards, and parking lots. Eventually they enter storm drains and into local ponds, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and canals, eventually into the ocean and our groundwater.

While rainwater is traveling across Florida, it can gather all kinds of pollutants, debris, and garbage, including fertilizers and pesticides. The last thing we want is for these pollutants to enter our waterways (especially underwater aquifers that supply our drinking water).

But what can you do?

Well, the more you know, the more you can help. Let’s start at the beginning.

What is storm water runoff pollution?

Storm water runoff is rain that ends up in storm drains. On its journey, it mixes with what’s on the ground. Some of these pollutants pose significant health and environmental risks:

  • Coolants, oil, metals, and grease from vehicles 
  • Pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals from homes and gardens 
  • Bacteria from failing septic systems and pet waste 
  • Soil erosion from bare ground like construction sites 
  • Soap from washing cars and other equipment 
  • Substances from leaky storage containers, accidental spills, etc. 

Rain also gathers larger garbage and debris as it washes into the waterways. In most areas, storm water runoff enters streams, rivers, lakes, and bays without getting cleaned of its pollutants.

Why do we need clean storm water?

Studies show unmanaged storm water runoff causes serious damage to waterways such as lakes, streams, and estuaries. Storm water pollution makes up at least 30% of the pollution in waters that have pollution problems. That may not seem like a lot, but when the problem is caused by millions of people in residential and commercial areas, it’s hard to fix.

Storm water runoff can degrade the quality of drinking water, making drinking water more difficult to treat and more expensive. It can also close swimming beaches and make shellfish growing less profitable.

Let’s take a closer look at the problems contaminated storm water causes:

  • Pollution harms and kills wildlife, especially fish. This affects fish farming and natural fish populations.
  • Pollution can close local businesses, especially those that rely on clean water for fishing, farming, or recreation.
  • Pollution can cause flooding in streams and wetlands, destroying the habitats of wildlife. 
  • When storm water can’t soak into the ground, it flows into developed land, causing flooding in homes and businesses.
  • Storm water diverts natural water flow systems, which can cause water shortages and droughts in areas that usually have plenty of water.

What can I do to reduce storm water runoff pollution?

While it would be nice to shift the problem to a government program or treatment plant, they can’t solve the problem alone.

Responsible Florida residents need to take responsibility for their individual pollution problems.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Properly maintain your vehicle. Maybe you’ve noticed oil slicks on the road after a rainstorm? That’s usually caused by oil leaks or other car problems.
2. Never dump anything down a storm drain.
3. Move your car during street cleaning days. Street sweepers move garbage, debris, and dirt off the street and prevent them from entering storm drains and into the water supply.
4. Wash your car at a car wash rather than in your front yard. Believe it or not, that causes less pollution because professional car washes have proper drainage.
5. Recycle used oil, antifreeze, and other automobile-related materials.
6. Drive less. Even using alternative transportation once a week can make a difference. Take a bus, bike, or carpool to work. Do multiple errands in one trip.
7. Get your vehicle emissions checked and repaired.
8. Invest in a low-emission or hybrid car.
9. Use less fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Always follow the directions on the package and never fertilize immediately before it rains.
10. Preserve existing trees in your yard; you can even plant new ones. Trees absorb more rainwater and improve storm water management.
11. Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Grass is one of the least effective plants at preventing storm water runoff.
12. Maintain your septic system. Faulty septic tanks can cause pollution to groundwater and contribute to pollution during a storm.
13. Clean up after your pet when it does its “business.” You should also keep all animals, including cows, horses, and other livestock, out of streams and rivers.
14. Reduce runoff of your rooftop, patio, driveway, and lawn. Put plants under your downspouts to absorb excess water.
Consider installing permeable paving or patterned brick to allow water to seep into the ground.
15. Support your local surface water program. Take time to politely educate your neighbors about what they can do to prevent storm water runoff pollution.

To find out more about how to prevent pollution and other community projects, check out our blog for updates.