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Stormwater Pollution

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Stormwater Pollution: 
Everyone's Problem

by Krista Scheirer, Conservation Coordinator at the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy 

Stormwater pollution is a problem we should all think about because we all contribute to it, we are all affected by it, and we can all be part of the solution. Stormwater running off the land carries many pollutants into local streams, either directly or through storm sewer systems.  We use those streams, along with wells, for our drinking water.  Due to development, less rain water is making its way underground to replenish our wells and more is rushing downstream.  The more polluted our water resources become, the more difficult and expensive it is for water companies to purify it for drinking. That cost is passed on to us when we pay our water bills.  Stormwater pollution also negatively impacts wildlife, recreation, stream banks and storm sewer systems.  It can lead to increased flooding, fish becoming inedible, the spread of pathogens and other risks to human health. 

It is the responsibility of everyone to protect our streams from stormwater pollution.  There are small actions each of us can take to reduce the pollutants stormwater picks up as it runs off the land.  There are also ways to manage stormwater so less of it runs off our properties in the first
place.  Whether you manage hundreds of acres or own a small town lot, you can do a great deal to improve the quality of the water that recharges local wells and waterways.

Types of Stormwater PollutionExamples
Litter Cigarette butts, cans, tires, plastics
Chemicals Soaps, oil, fertilizers, pesticides, car fluids
Organic Grass, yard waste, pet waste, compost, leaky septic systems
Sediment Soil from bare earth, eroded stream banks, construction sites

Reduce the Pollutants 
Stormwater pollution can be litter, chemicals, organics (leaves, grass clippings, etc.), or sediment.  See the table below for examples of each.  By disposing of trash, yard waste and household chemicals properly, using fertilizer sparingly, and picking up after our pets, we can greatly reduce the pollution on our land that stormwater can pick up.  Washing a car outside can allow soap and pollutants to enter storm drains, and thus, streams.  We can prevent this by washing our cars at a car wash, where the water is recycled, and washing other things indoors at a sink.  Stormwater easily erodes soil from bare earth, causing dirtier waterways.  To protect our streams, and our topsoil, we can plant more native vegetation on our properties, keep grass tall enough to slow down water (three inches or higher), and install silt fences during any earth disturbance activities.  

Reduce the Runoff 
In the past, stormwater management emphasized removing water quickly from land to prevent flooding, but that sent large volumes of water rushing into local streams.  This quickly eroded stream banks, muddying the water in our streams and changing the shape of the waterways.  Fast-moving stormwater picks up more pollution from our lawns, farms and roads, turning creeks and aquatic habitats into open storm sewers.  The key to proper stormwater management is slowing the rate of this runoff.  This allows enough time for rainwater to sink into the ground rather than running off into storm drains. 

Installing a rain barrel on your downspout is an easy way to keep rain on your property.  These containers collect and store rain water to be used for watering plants, cleaning yard equipment, or topping off a swimming pool.  If collected in a rain barrel, stormwater can be released slowly, giving
it time to seep into the soil.  Rain barrels save money on household water use, provide plants with soft water (free of chlorine, lime or calcium), conserve water for use during drought, and can be designed to fit in nicely with your house and landscaping. 

A rain garden is a great way to reduce runoff and add beautiful native plants to your property.  Rain gardens are graded slightly to collect several inches of stormwater, allowing time for the water to be absorbed by the soil or used by the plants.  Both of these natural processes filter the water, and prevent it from becoming polluted stormwater runoff.  Rain gardens recharge our groundwater resources and attract butterflies, beneficial insects and other wildlife.  By using rain gardens and other stormwater management techniques at home, we can have a huge cumulative effect on the quality and quantity of our drinking water.

Perkiomen Watershed Cnservancy
1 Skippack Pike, Schwenksville, PA 19473
Phone:  610-287-9383
Fax:  610-287-9237
www.perkiomenwatershed.org
 

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