Rainfall—while it can sometimes put a damper in a day at the beach or sporting event, is an integral part of the water cycle that supplies our streams and rivers and helps keep our reservoirs full. Surface water produces much of our drinking water supply, meaning rainfall is very important to our lives. However, once the rain makes landfall, our own pollution can seriously affect the water that we will use in the future.
When rain finishes its long trek from the sky to the ground, it can end up in different places. When it lands on a grassy area, the water soaks into the ground. But when it doesn't sink into the soil and lands on a paved area, it is called stormwater or runoff. Most roads are located near stormwater systems that catch the water in drains, moving it to local waterways through a system of pipes.
Unlike sewers, stormwater systems usually drain directly into a creek, river, or other body of water without treatment. This results in trash and pollutants rolling straight into rivers and lakes. All the pollutants and items dumped into a storm drain, end up in a nearby river or lake.
Even if you don't toss trash out your window as you drive down the street, you still may be affecting our water. Though most would never intentionally pollute a local water source, runoff can carry pollutants to local waterways. Poor land management practices, like using too much fertilizer on your lawn, could cause serious harm to your local lake, river and reservoirs. And, everything from a motor oil drip from your car to the ends of cigarettes, garbage, soil, pet droppings and road salt can end up in the storm drain and, in the end, in our drinking water system.
And it's just not residential areas that affect the stormwater—pollutants from commercial, agricultural, and industrial properties can also be pushed into the water system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urban and suburban areas produce much more stormwater runoff due to the high amount of paved and hard surfaces.
Polluted stormwater is one of the most significant causes of water pollution due to its volume and the fact that it is untreated water flowing directly into lakes and rivers. Contaminants that cannot be removed from the drinking water can endanger the health of people and wildlife alike.
In the past, a decent amount of rain could be filtered through a natural filtration process as it moved across grasslands and forests. However, urbanization and other practices have altered land formations and riparian zones, reducing the natural filtration and erosion protection around waterways that once provided a free water cleaning process.
It is up to Texas residents, including farmers and businesses, to work to keep pollutants out of our stormwater. While inefficient irrigation processes and other activities can pollute stormwater, a lot of stormwater pollution is caused by our daily activities.
There are things that everyone can do to keep our local water sources clean. Here are some simple tips that you can practice every day to prevent stormwater pollution and help protect our environment:
- Don't dump waste (or anything) in storm drains. Make sure that runoff carries only rainwater.
- Keep your yard clippings out of the street. Sweep and bag it up and ensure that it is disposed of properly.
- Dispose of household hazardous waste properly by following the directions on the package. Many communities offer programs to help you with the proper disposal process.
- Use drip pans to catch engine oil and other liquids while repairing cars or if you have a slow leak.
- Avoid throwing litter into the street. The trash will eventually flow into storm drains, clogging them and causing street flooding.
- Pick up after your pet. Picking up pet waste is a courtesy for your environment, your neighbors, and the public.
- Recycle your motor oil.
- Wash your car at a commercial car wash. Or wash your car on an unpaved surface so the excess water can be absorbed into the ground.
- Water your lawn by hand or adjust your sprinklers to avoid over-watering.
- Use yard waste as mulch, natural fertilizer, or as ground cover. If you do use fertilizer or pesticides, be mindful when you apply them. Do not apply before it rains. You will lose most of the chemicals through runoff. Read the label to correctly apply.
- Report illegal dumping to the proper authorities. Illegal dumping should be reported immediately to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality at 888-777-3186. If you live on a BRA reservoir, you can call the local lake office during business hours.
- Drain swimming pools and spas into a sanitary sewer outlet. You can check with your local wastewater treatment plant before disposing of anything in the sewer.
- It may seem silly but sweep your driveway instead of hosing it down and bag the remnants to put in the trash. This will eliminate the chance of unwanted oils and debris flowing into the stormwater drain.
- Lastly, share the message about the importance of clean stormwater with friends and family.
The more people that know about the stormwater pollution issue, the better! To learn more about what you can do to help keep our waterways clean, visit our environmental tab by clicking here.