Earth Day 2018: 11 Ways You Can Stop Water Pollution in Kane County

Earth Day 2018: 11 Ways You Can Stop Water Pollution in Kane County

  • This article is part of a series of tips on how to make a positive environmental impact in Kane County — 15 in all, one for every business day before Earth Day. This article was contributed by Anne Wilford, water resources engineer for the Kane County Division of Environmental & Water Resources.

The hard truth is that stormwater runoff is a leading source of water pollution throughout America.

The good news is that there’s a lot we can do to minimize the negative impacts.

Here’s a brief look at stormwater runoff and how we can prevent polluted runoff from reaching our lakes, rivers and streams.

What Is Stormwater Runoff?

When it rains or when snow melts, the water that flows over the land is called stormwater runoff.

If the rain falls on undeveloped land, much of the water can soak into the ground. But if the rainfall lands on impervious surfaces, such as streets, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots and roof tops, it doesn’t have a chance to infiltrate.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 55 percent of stormwater runoff in urban areas is unable to soak into the ground. As it flows, the runoff picks up pollutants — stuff like bacteria, chemicals, pesticides, animal waste, oils, sediment or even garbage.

The runoff eventually makes its way to our lakes, rivers and streams.

Stormwater runoff entering a storm drain.

Where Does Stormwater Runoff Go?

What happens to that stormwater runoff before it finds its way to a body of water?

  • Sometimes, the stormwater is collected and transported in storm sewers before making its way to a body of water.
  • In many rural communities, the stormwater may be conveyed through an open channel system, such as roadside ditches.
  • In older urban communities, the stormwater might be collected in what is called a Combined Sewer System. Combined sewer systems collect sewage and stormwater runoff into one sewer, which transport both the sewage and stormwater to a Wastewater Treatment facility for treatment prior to discharge. However, with these combined sewers, when the volume of the sewer waters exceeds the capacity of the system, such as in a heavy rainfall event, the combined wastewater might be discharged with little or no treatment into a community’s lakes, rivers or streams.
  • Stormwater controls, designed by engineers, are now used in construction and development to filter out many of the pollutants on-site before entering the sewer system and our lakes, rivers and streams.

According to a Water Environment Federation report titled Rainfall to Results: The Future of Stormwater, stormwater is the only growing source of water pollution in many watersheds across the country.

“With urban populations expected to grow to nearly 70 percent by 2050, and more frequent and intense storms occurring across the country, there is ever-increasing pressure on stormwater systems and water infrastructure,” the report said.

Diagram from Protect Every Drop explaining stormwater runoff and watersheds.

What Can We Do To Improve Water Quality in Kane County?

What can you do to improve the water quality before the runoff reaches our lakes, rivers and streams?

Here are 11 ways you can help efforts to stop stormwater pollution:

  1. Switch to reusable water bottles and reusable shopping bags. Plastic bottles can end up as litter, polluting the lakes, rivers and streams. Click here for information about microplastics in our Nation’s waterways from the United States Geological Survey.
  2. Properly dispose of your household hazardous waste, such as cleaning supplies, pesticides or mediation. Do not dump chemicals down your sink, toilet, stormwater drain, sanitary sewer or in your yard. Find out how to properly dispose of your household hazardous waste from Kane County Recycling.
  3. Cut down on your use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Always follow directions on these products and use sparingly. The less we use, the less we have in the stormwater runoff.
  4. Maintain your vehicles. Fix those oil leaks on your car. Properly dispose of your used oil, antifreeze and other fluids with guidance from Kane County Recycling.
  5. Pick up your pet waste. Learn about proper pet waste management in this Kane County Connects article
  6. Disconnect your downspouts. This decreases the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system and increases the amount of water that soaks into the ground.  Refer to this Kane County Connects article for information on disconnecting your downspout.
  7. Use rain barrels. Rain barrels can be another great way to use that rain water effectively and decrease the stormwater runoff for your property. See The Conservation Foundation website for information on Rain Barrels.
  8. Consider adding a rain garden to improve the infiltration of stormwater runoff on your property. See the upcoming 2018 Countdown to Earth Day Article on Rain Gardens.
  9. Minimize patio areas. Thinking of putting in a patio? Consider minimizing impervious area or consider using permeable pavers for your patio. Information on this topic is available on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
  10. Use native plantings in your landscaping to help soak up and filter the stormwater runoff. Refer to this Kane County Connects article on planting natives in your back yard from the 2017 Countdown to Earth Day series.
  11. Get involved with one of many local volunteer groups. There are many organizations that work to clean up and create awareness about our local watersheds. Here are few groups for you to consider:

    Signs placed throughout Kane County where roadways cross waterways.

Interested to know where stormwater runoff is headed throughout Kane County? Keep an eye out for Kane County Stream signs that bring awareness to the waterways surrounding us.

For more information about Kane County’s stormwater programs, please visit Clean Water for Kane.

Read the Countdown to Earth Day Series!