What is stormwater runoff?

Monday, September 14, 2009

With the recent issue of stormwater assessments, I felt it was a good time to clarify what exactly stormwater runoff is, and why it's an important issue. Please see the following information from Mary Gutierrez at the West Florida Regional Planning Council:

What is stormwater runoff?
Stormwater runoff occurs when precipitation from rain (or snowmelt) flows over the ground. Impervious surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater from naturally soaking into the ground.

Why is stormwater runoff a problem?
Stormwater can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm water system or directly to a lake, stream, river, wetland, or coastal water. Anything that enters a storm water system is discharged untreated into the waterbodies we use for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water.

What you can do to reduce stormwater pollution:

  • SHOP WISELY – By products labeled biodegradable, non-toxic, non-phosphorus, or water soluble. WHY? …They readily decompose and will not pollute surface or ground water.
  • STORE PRODUCTS SAFELY – Keep toxic products in original containers, closed and clearly marked in safe storage places. WHY? ...To prevent spillage, which could reach ground or surface waters, and to prevent accidents with children or pets.
  • PROPERLY MAINTAIN SEPTIC SYSTEMS – Inspect systems regularly and have pumped out as needed. Avoid caustic cleaners, chemicals, or solvents and fats, oils and greases. WHY? …They might destroy waste-reducing bacteria or clog absorption fields, which could cause runoff of inadequately treated waste during rain storms to reach our ground or surface waters.
  • USE GARDEN AND LAWN CHEMICALS WISELY – Follow package directions carefully, and only use pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers when other methods fail. Do not apply if rain is in the forecast. (Or just plant native species). WHY? …. Excessive fertilizers and chemicals wash off the property and into surface and ground waters.
  • KEEP IRRIGATION WATER ON THE LAWN AND GARDEN (NOT ON PAVED SURFACES) – Divert rain spouts to unpaved areas or swales, and wash vehicles where water will drain to vegetated areas (Or use a rain barrel or create a rain garden). WHY? … This allows runoff to soak into the soil and not wash off the property into nearby waterbodies after picking up pollutants.
  • COMPOST LEAVES, GRASS AND SHRUB CLIPPINGS – Use these materials as mulch to supplement fertilizers. Do not rake these materials into roadways or swales. WHY? … These materials will decompose, returning nutrients to the soil so that you can use less fertilizer. If placed to roads or swales, yard debris will block drainage flows and end up in your nearest waterbodies.
  • DON’T DRAIN USED MOTOR OIL INTO STORM DRAINS – Take used motor oil and antifreeze to service stations to recycle them. WHY? ...These products are toxic and add pollutants to surface waters if placed or washed into storm drains.
  • SERVICE YOUR CAR REGULARLY – Have your care inspected and maintained regularly. WHY? … To prevent leakage of motor oil, antifreeze and other fluids that can end up in the nearest waterbody. Well maintained vehicles reduce air emissions that also can contaminate surface waters.


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