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Don't Dump! Drains to Waterway is a StowGuide Special Report

You've seen them everywhere from main streets to super highways,  from country lanes to neighborhood roads.  They're storm drains.   You know, the holes in the roads covered with metal grates.  Well these "holes" serve a purpose.  They help drain run off when it rains and reduce local flooding.  What most people don't realize is that the run-off water ends up in some sort of waterway, most likely the brook trickling nearby your neighborhood.   Other typical destinations for storm drain run-off are lakes, streams, rivers, bays, wetlands, and even the ocean.  This run-off, unlike raw sewage never gets treated at a waste water treatment plant.

Point Source Pollution

This type of pollution is point specific.  In other words, the pollution can be tracked back to a specific origin.  Here are a few examples of point source pollution: 

    - discharge pipes from waste water treatment plants

    - industrial waste discharge pipes from industries

    - combined sewer outfalls.  In older urban areas, raw sewage systems are mixed with storm drain systems.  Often, especially on rainy days, the sewage treatment plant overflows due to excess water thus resulting in raw sewage and pollutants discharging into waterways.

Non-Point Source Pollution

Non-point source pollution is pollution in waterways originating from many sources.  Whenever it rains run-off from streets and roads pick up motor oil, litter, animal/pet wastes, leaves, sand, salt, grass clippings, excess fertilizers, pesticides and other harmful chemicals.  These pollutants end up in our lakes, streams, and other waterways by means of storm drains.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the federal body charged with protecting the environment, has deemed non-point source pollution as the primary cause of our deteriorating water quality.


- Put litter in its place!  Never throw trash down a storm drain.  If you see any trash nearby, please pick it up.

- Recycle everything possible from cans to motor oil.

- Sweep, do not wash, fertilizers off of driveways, roadways, and walkways.  Fertilizers contain large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus which can cause algae blooms in waterways.  Algae blooms deplete most of the oxygen in water killing fish and other aquatic life.

- Use pesticides and herbicides sparingly or use a natural alternative.  These toxic materials are very harmful to humans, animals and plants.   Try  to weed by hand, keep grass trimmed and plant native plants and grasses whenever possible.

- Flush pet waste down the toilet or bury it into the ground.   Pet waste, like human waste, is raw sewage which contain harmful bacteria and oxygen consuming materials that can be released into waterways via storm drains.

- Compost yard clippings and yard waste.  Do not allow and yard waste to accumulate on streets, walkways or driveways.

- Recycle used motor oil!  Take used oil to your nearest service station to have it recycled.  Just one can of oil can contaminate two million gallons of drinking water.  In fact, more oil drains into waterways a year than was spilled be the Exxon Valdez.

- Take used anti-freeze to a service station to be recycled.   Do not mix anti-freeze with any other substances.  Anti-freeze is very toxic and can kill humans and animals.  Animals that drink from or live in contaminated water sources can die.

- Save oil-based and lead paints for household hazardous collection day.

Following these solutions and common sense can help cut down on non-point source pollution.

Source:   Center for Marine Conservation, "Million Points of Blight,"  Storm Drain Fact Sheet.  July, 1992.

Copyright 1999 StowGuide, Stow, MA