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Only rain should go down drains
Keep Liberty Beautiful
Keep Liberty Beautiful logo
Sara Swida is director of Keep Liberty Beautiful. You can call her at 880-4888.

Ever wonder what those little drain holes are for in sidewalks and next to streets? Is that where those urban myth alligators are? Or are alien outposts hidden below the community waiting to take over the earth? Or are these convenient little holes for citizens to dump cigarette butts, plastic bottles, grease, and yard debris in?

Wrong answers on all of these.

Many people often incorrectly assume that they are part of a sewer system. They are actually storm sewer drains. A sanitary sewer system and a storm sewer system are not the same. Water that goes down a sink, toilet or other drain flows to either a wastewater treatment plant or to a septic system for treatment. Storm sewer flows are not treated. Water that flows down driveways, streets and outside areas into a storm sewer or ditch can end up directly in nearby creeks, fish and wildlife habitats, downstream recreational areas and drinking water supplies.

Get the picture? So anything that we leave on the pavement or intentionally dump in a storm drain ends up in our waterways. It is propelled by stormwater. Stormwater is water from rain that does not soak into the ground. It flows from rooftops, over paved areas, bare soil and sloped lawns. As it flows, stormwater runoff collects and transports animal waste, litter, salt, pesticides, fertilizers, oil and grease, soil and other potential pollutants. Rain and snowmelt wash pollutants from streets, construction sites and land into storm sewers and ditches. Eventually, these empty the polluted stormwater directly into streams and rivers with no treatment, creating stormwater pollution and a host of problems.

Polluted stormwater degrades our lakes, rivers, wetlands and other waterways. Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen can cause the overgrowth of algae resulting in oxygen depletion in waterways.

Toxic substances from motor vehicles can damage water quality.

The careless application of pesticides and fertilizers threaten water quality and can kill fish and other aquatic life.

Bacteria from animal wastes and improper connections to storm sewer systems can make lakes and waterways unsafe for wading, swimming and fish consumption. Eroded soil from construction sites is a pollutant as well. It clouds the waterway and interferes with the habitat of fish and plant life.

Here are a few ways that you can prevent stormwater pollution:

1. Don’t dump anything down storm drains. Be sure to clear away leaves and debris and, for heavens sake, don’t dump leaves and grass clippings intentionally in the drain.

2. Wash your car over your lawn or gravel and use biodegradable or phosphate-free soap. Or just use a commercial car wash where wastewater is either recycled or treated.

3. Keep your car well-maintained. Fix any fluid leaks promptly and make sure to clean up any spills.

4. Plant a rain garden to absorb stormwater runoff. You can also use a rain barrel to help collect runoff from your roof and gutters to be used on your lawn and garden.

5. Use lawn and garden chemicals sparingly. Try organics options.

6. Mow the lawn less often. Minimize runoff by not over-watering your landscape. Try to keep your lawn at least 3 inches in height to minimize weed growth, reduce the need for watering and decrease the likelihood of pests. Leaving the clippings on the lawn can also help block weeds and retain moisture.

7. Sweep your sidewalks and driveway rather than hosing them down.

8. Plant native, low-maintenance plants and grasses.

9. Clean up pet waste and dispose of it in the trash.

10. Consider minimizing impervious surfaces around your home. Use bricks, gravel, cobbles, natural stone or permeable pavers instead of asphalt or concrete when possible.

11. Keep your septic system well maintained to prevent leaks. It can leach harmful bacteria.

So if you are curious about why efforts like the volunteer cleanups for Rivers Alive on Oct. 28 or why the fantastic storm drain marker project that the local Rotary Club did the last three years matter, it is because we need to all protect our waterways from stormwater pollution.

So plan now to make a difference by contacting us at Keep Liberty Beautiful. Call 880-4888 or email

And remember: only rain down the drain.

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