Clean Water Future News

Stormwater & Pollution Video

Mar 17, 2019 - Education

Stormwater & Pollution Video

Pollution in water is not only ugly, it can result in the death of a range of plants and animals and put our health at risk, too.

If we want to know how to keep our water clean, we need to know what makes it dirty

70% of the earth's surface is covered by water, but only 3% of it is not salty and the majority of this freshwater is frozen in glaciers. Only a tiny portion of the world's water is usable for sustaining our quality of life that is why we need to protect it...

Understanding how that fresh water cycles on the earth helps us find the source and causes of pollution.

Energy from the sun heats the surface of exposed water evaporating it into its gas form. As water vapor cools, it condenses resulting in rain and snow.

In natural areas the majority of this water is evaporated back into the air or absorbed into the ground, the rest runs downhill through the watershed in creeks that empty into Lakes and rivers, then bays and seas which are part of our watersheds

A Watershed is an area of land that all drains into the same body of water. It can be a small area like land surrounding a single creek, or it can include an entire river system that crosses state lines. It’s important to remember that wherever you are, you are in a watershed and however that land is used within the watershed will affect the water quality downstream.

Land Uses

Improper agricultural uses lead to increased sediment, fertilizer, pesticide, and pathogen pollutions; Residential use increases the amount of trash, fertilizers, pesticides, and pathogens. Commercial areas leads to additional trash, oil and grease in the water; and industrial areas lead to more pollution of chemicals and trash. Regardless, all types of pollution can come from any of these land uses.

Urbanization Effects on Stormwater

Since Impervious surfaces such as roofs, roads, parking lots and even manicured lawns prevent rain from absorbing into the ground, when areas develop, more rain water is converted to storm water runoff carrying with it a variety of pollutants including any sediment, trash, oil, grease, fertilizers, pesticides or pathogens in its path.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies these as Non-Point Source Pollution because they don’t originate at a single source like a pipe coming out of a factory or waste water treatment plant. These point sources are heavily regulated through permitting.

Sediment Pollution

Primarily coming from agricultural and residential areas, sediment pollution degrades the quality of water for drinking, stunts growth of vegetation, and disrupts the natural food chain by destroying habitat.

Erosion of heavily tilled farm soil and construction sites are both common causes of sedimentation of local streams and creeks.

Neighborhoods and commercial areas without appropriate stormwater facilities can lead to a rush of extra water that can overwhelm wetlands and cause stream bank erosion that washes large amounts of sediment downstream.

Trash Pollution

Of all the pollutions in in our waters, trash may be the most visible. Some trash pollution comes from illegal dumping, but much of it is blown out of truck beds or thrown on the street where stormwater washes it down drains that empty out into creeks and rivers.

Chemical, Oil, Grease, and Heavy Metal Pollution

Compounds like oil, grease, and heavy metals take a long time to break down and threaten the health of both aquatic and human life.

Industrial factories used to be a major point source of chemical pollution in our water. But since they are now regulated through state and federal agencies, non-point source chemical pollution has become a bigger problem. Common causes of chemical pollution include oil leaks in cars, pouring grease and oil down kitchen sinks, the emptying of household chemicals down storm drains, and illegal dumping

Fertilizer and other Nutrient Pollution

Nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers along with organic material found in leaves and grass clippings are all nutrients that help plants grow. When it rains, if too much of these nutrients wash off yards or farms into waterways, the algae in the water grows faster than the ecosystem can handle resulting in algal blooms. These blooms harm the water quality, food resources, and habitats of the water body, and often cause fish kills due to the sharp decrease of oxygen in the water needed to sustain aquatic life

Pesticide Pollution

Often originating from the same source, when we use too much ant, flea, or other poisons, stormwater can wash the excess pesticides into our rivers and creeks. While pesticides are designed to be toxic to certain organisms, they can often be harmful and kill other species in the marine system that are important for the entire ecosystem. That’s why you should always apply pesticides sparingly, and never use them before a big rain.

Pathogen Pollution

Disease-causing bacteria and viruses in human and animal waste are common causes of Pathogen Pollution. When pet, livestock, and wildlife waste wash into storm drains and streams, pathogens from that waste can make the water a serious threat to our health. Along with animal waste, malfunctioning septic tanks and sanitary sewer systems can overflow with heavy rain which allow large amounts of untreated sewage to flow into our waters.

What's Being Done

Solving the problem of pollution is a long term process.

In 1972, The Clean Water Act was signed into law across the country forming the Environmental Protection Agency which develops rules and works with states to keep our waters clean. State agencies like the Alabama Department of Environmental Management play a big role in sampling lakes, rivers, and streams to identify which ones are polluted. They then develop plans to help clean them up in conjunction with local counties and cities.

Another way local governments fight pollution is by passing ordinances that encourage future development to include Best Management Practices which are techniques, processes, activities, and structures used to reduce pollutants in stormwater. Green infrastructure such as bioswales and raingardens that are engineered to mimic the natural water cycle, trash traps, and public education are all examples of BMPs.

Clean Water is everyone's responsibility. You can do your part in creating a clean water future: Step up, Speak Up, and Follow up.

Step Up: Throw any trash you have in the bin. Recycle your used oil and grease, and never pour them down the drain. Use Pesticides sparingly, pick up pet waste, Keep leaves and grass clippings out of storm water drains and volunteer in cleanups and water quality monitoring programs.

Speak Up: If you see something Say Something, Report issues to your municipal government, attend your city council meetings, and organize cleanups in your neighborhood.

Follow Up: When you report an issue, check back to makes sure actions were taken. Follow up with local Government Officials. After Cleanups, identify ways of preventing trash from polluting that area in the future.

If we all do our part: students, volunteers, government officials, scientists, environmental managers, teachers, industry leaders, we can all create a clean water future for generations to come.

Find more tips on how you can help keep our water clean by going to ADEM.Alabama.gov