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Pop-up showers are good rains gone wild
Karen Bell
Keep Liberty Beautiful Executive Director Karen Bell.

It has certainly been the year for pop-up rain showers! Rain brings so many good things to our lives. It cleans the air, it makes plants thrive and it cools the air in the summer time. It enhances our lives in so many ways, but when it comes to stormwater, rain takes on a darker personality. Unfortunately, when stormwater – especially a lot of it like we have had lately – meets litter and debris, stormwater is like “good rain gone wild.” Stormwater’s dark side is revealed when it picks up debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants as it flows over pervious surfaces, like sidewalks, roads and concrete driveways. The combination of stormwater and litter and debris is called stormwater pollution.

Understanding stormwater pollution is actually quite simple. When it rains, it pours and when it pours, the stormwater process is set in motion.  Stormwater that does not soak into the ground becomes surface runoff. Impervious surfaces, like driveways, sidewalks and streets, prevent the rain water runoff from easily soaking in the ground. That is why stormwater pollution problems are significant in more populated areas. This runoff becomes polluted as it runs along roads, parking lots, roofs, commercial areas, lawns and farms. As the water flows along, it picks up anything in its path – pollutants such as automotive fluids, fertilizers and pesticides, bacteria, sediments, litter and pet waste.  

Stormwater’s bad side can cause flooding and erosion of stream banks – which creates significant problems in our waterways. After a storm, stormwater travels through a system of drains and roadside ditches. It eventually flows directly into local creeks and rivers and can eventually end up at sea. All of the pollutants stormwater carries along the way empty into our waters too. These pollutants wreak havoc in our waters.

 We are the reason that stormwater causes problems. Rain is not really bad until it hooks up with the debris and litter that we create. 

The behavior of individuals – and the choices we make each day – contribute more to water pollution than the activities of business, industry and large public enterprise. We need to be the solution to this water pollution. 

Polluted runoff is our nation’s greatest threat to having clean and safe water.

Although 80 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, only 3 percent of the earth’s water is fresh water and only 1 percent of the earth’s water is suitable for drinking water. We need to treat water as the precious commodity that it is. Water issues affect all of us, no matter who we are or where we live.

A typical city block generates more than five times more runoff than a wooded area of the same size. We have to blame the abundance of those pervious surfaces again for that. 

One gallon of oil can contaminate up to one million gallons of water. 

Using a commercial carwash actually can reduce stormwater runoff pollution. 

It is estimated that four billion tons of sediment are eroded annually from construction sites into U.S. waterways.

Sediment also accumulates from homes and agricultural sites also. Soil and silt in the water increase water temperature and murkiness, which harm fish and their food supply.

Decaying leaves and organic materials in storm drains increase bacteria and mosquito production and decrease oxygen essential for fish life.

Although our wastewater is cleaned and treated before it goes into waterways, stormwater runoff flows through storm drains and into local waterways untreated. 

The three largest sources of storm water pollution are: herbicides and pesticides from agriculture and lawns, urban runoff (urban here means anywhere lots of people are in our towns and cities) and sediment from construction sites.

So the next time it looks like rain remember: we can keep these bad elements – litter, debris, motor oil, sediment – out of our rain water. Help rain be the lovely force of nature that it is, by making sure that the only thing traveling down our storm drains is rain water! To learn more about stormwater pollution and litter prevention, contact Keep Liberty Beautiful at 912-880 4888 or or check out our website

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