Rain starts pelting windows and the wind whips the rain in seemingly endless directions. The roads fill up in a flash flood — a storm has arrived in Phoenix. The water passes by loaded with all sorts of garbage, and it is heading straight downstream.
The trash and chemicals people dump on driveways, sidewalks and roads eventually get picked up by rainwater, which then flows downstream to local rivers and lakes, says Leigh Padgitt, an Environmental Quality Specialist for the City of Phoenix.
Phoenix, like other cities around the nation, works to educate businesses and homeowners about the simple ways they can keep water clean and pollutant-free. While it may take planning, it’s easy to implement procedures to ensure stormwater runs through cities without picking up debris and other pollutants along the way. Even a small amount of pollution can affect everyone in a community.
Make use of water onsite
Vegetated areas are preferred over paved areas to slow the flow and decrease pollution in stormwater runoff. Green roofs, or roofs covered in vegetation, help absorb stormwater so it doesn’t run off the roof, down the concrete driveway, and into washes, rivers, and lakes. If present, ensure any downspouts are facing away from paved surfaces. Rain gardens are areas of vegetation built into depressed areas where rain can flow through, infiltrate the soil, and make use of runoff. Another example is permeable pavement, or porous concrete/asphalt, which infiltrates, treats, and can even store rainwater so it doesn’t continue flowing downstream.
This infrastructure can be implemented during construction and is known as low impact development or green infrastructure. Businesses and homeowners can use some of these strategies as a beneficial use of the stormwater that falls on their property.
Use environmentally friendly products and avoid discharge
Whether at a business or at home, storing chemicals in labeled, covered containers prevents waste from accidentally slipping into gutters or other places it shouldn’t be. The most common items Padgitt sees potentially contaminating stormwater from households are pesticides and fertilizers used in gardening. This can occur if people over-water their yards and that water spills into storm drains.
Cleaning products, hydraulic fluids, pool chlorine and other household chemicals need to be disposed of properly. The preferred method of disposal is to take these items to a household hazardous waste collection event.
Clean up spills and leaks
Accidents happen. There may be motor oil that spills or chemicals that leak while cleaning. A spill kit or supplies should always be on hand for those situations. Dump cat litter or sand to soak up liquids, and then sweep it into trash bags.
Check cars and boats at home for leaks, and repair them. Place pans underneath leaking vehicles. Sweep in front of your property, especially if there is debris and, wherever you go, clean up after your pet. Dog feces can carry traces of the bacteria E. coli, and that bacteria can get into the stormwater runoff and could eventually make its way back in the environment.
“If everybody does their part, then it minimizes the amount that goes into the environment,” Padgitt says.
With these simple prevention steps, you can do your part to protect the water for yourself, your family and the community.