What Is Stormwater?

 Stormwater runoff is the rain or melting snow that flows over streets, parking lots, rooftops, lawns, farmland and other land surfaces. Controlling stormwater runoff and pollution is a serious issue facing many communities across Indiana and the nation. Stormwater runoff is not clean water. As it flows across various land surfaces, stormwater picks up and carries pollutants such as soil, litter, yard wastes, pesticides, fertilizers, bacteria, oil, grease, road salts and toxic chemicals from leaks and spills. These pollutants are washed off a wide area and cannot be traced back to a single point, so stormwater runoff is known as nonpoint source pollution. Since more than half of all water pollution in the U.S. comes from nonpoint sources, uncontrolled stormwater runoff can have a huge impact on the quality of our water.

Where Does It All Go?

As stormwater flows into storm drains on parking lots and streets, it enters a system of underground pipes called storm sewers. The city of Washington has two different types of stormwater collection systems: combined sewers (sewage and stormwater) and municipal separate storm sewer systems (stormwater only), known as MS4’s. Combined sewers lead to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, where water from this system is treated and filtered before being released into the White River. During a heavy rain, however, the capacity of the treatment plant can be overwhelmed, causing untreated sewage and stormwater to overflow into the White River. The MS4’s around Washington do not lead to the wastewater treatment plant. Polluted runoff transported by these systems is discharged directly into the environment without any treatment or filtration at all. Washington's MS4’s empty into Hawkins Creek and the Hurricane Branch of Veale Creek, eventually flowing into the White River.

What Is The Impact Of Stormwater Runoff?

  Polluted runoff flowing into our streams and rivers can be a serious problem, causing degradation of habitat for aquatic plants, animals and fish, increased sedimentation, increased levels of bacteria and pathogens, and contamination of the water by a variety of potentially toxic chemicals. When streams and rivers become polluted, then human health can also be affected.

   In addition to the impacts on the environment and human health, the land itself can be affected by stormwater runoff. When communities grow and urban areas expand, more paved surfaces are created. This can lead to an increase in the amount and speed of water flowing off the land and into receiving waters. This in turn can cause larger and more frequent floods, erosion of stream banks, and property damage.

How Can We Help?  

Many of our everyday activities around the home have the potential to contribute to stormwater pollution. Improper use and storage of harsh household chemicals, careless trash disposal, home improvement projects, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and do-it-yourself auto care and maintenance are just a few of the ways people can add to the pollution flowing into our local waterways. These many individual sources of pollution can add up to cause big water quality problems!

   Stormwater pollution can be prevented, but it takes the involvement and the actions of the whole community. Each citizen bears the responsibility to reduce the amount of pollutants he or she releases into the environment. See the booklet Stormwater Solutions for actions you can take to reduce stormwater runoff and pollution. For additional information on how you can be a part of the solution to stormwater pollution, contact the Washington Wastewater/Stormwater Department, 812-254-2792.