Have you ever wondered what happens to rainwater after it flows down into a storm drain along a curb? There are many people who assume these drains lead to wastewater treatment plants, but in actuality the water that goes into storm drains goes back out into water sources—streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, bays, oceans and wetlands.
This is why it’s so important to prevent pollutants from affecting stormwater and storm drains. Here’s a quick overview of what you should know about the various issues that can arise from stormwater.
Why is stormwater a potential problem in Rochester, NY? As stormwater runs along surfaces like pavement, streets, landscaping and buildings, it can pick up a variety of pollutants that it will carry with it into the drains and, thus, into our waterways. These pollutants aren’t necessarily a problem in small amounts, and it is impossible to entirely prevent pollution of stormwater from occurring. However, in larger amounts, there can be some major issues with stormwater, which is why there is such a movement to address stormwater pollution and to keep our storm drains and waterways clean.
In general, sediment is the number one pollutant in the country. Water picks it up when running through soil, and when it gets suspended in water it floats and clouds up the water, potentially suffocating aquatic life. Once the sediment settles and stops clouding up the water, it can damage fish and plant habitats by burying stream riffles, which help to add oxygen to the waterways.
Fertilizers are another example of a common pollutant. They tend to contain high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which, when found in water, can promote algae growth. An overabundance of algae can damage aquatic life and suck up some of the oxygen in a body of water, which can result in waterways that are not suitable for fish life. With fertilizers come pesticides, toxic chemicals designed to kill various bugs and pests in vegetation. These pesticides, when affecting water supplies, can also damage aquatic life. In some studies, fertilizers and pesticides have been linked as a primary cause for developmental defects in amphibians.
Other pollutants that can run off from paved surfaces include antifreeze and oil, as well as bacteria and parasites from pet waste.
Stormwater runoff doesn’t just contaminate flowing waterways, either—it can also contaminate wells and groundwater. When the stormwater in an area is overly polluted, it can be a major health risk.
For these reasons and more, it is up to humans to do what they can to adjust their everyday activities to ensure good water quality. Pick up pet waste around the house. Clean up spills when they happen. Avoid using toxic chemicals in your landscaping. Cities can also plant and maintain stream buffers alongside streams and creeks, which can filter pollutants from stormwater runoff and reduce flooding and erosion.