Simple Actions, Big Impact: Preventing Stormwater Pollution in Omaha
BY HANNAH RENNARD-GANLEY, EDUCATION & OUTREACH COORDINATOR
In Nebraska, polluted stormwater is the number one cause of water pollution. Human actions cause the majority of pollution that affects stormwater, but most people pollute unintentionally. Keep Omaha Beautiful works with the Omaha Stormwater Program to bring this issue to light and to inform Omaha residents how they can help to keep water sources clean.
Most people refer to the drain in the side of the street as the “sewer,” but technically, it is a storm drain. A sewer is when you flush the toilet, wash your dishes, take a shower, or do anything else that sends water into the pipes in your house. The “stuff” that washes down the drain flows to a wastewater treatment plant where it is filtered, treated, and discharged.
The rainwater that enters storm drains, however, travels directly to local waterways without being filtered or treated. All the pollutants picked up by rain or snowmelt on its way to a storm drain will end up in a nearby stream, river, or lake, polluting the water and negatively impacting wildlife. Additionally, the hard surfaces in our city (streets, driveways, roofs, etc.) cause an increase in the speed and volume of water flow, which causes erosion of waterway banks.
Common pollutants picked up by stormwater runoff include:
- Oil, grease, metals and coolants from vehicles
- Fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals from gardens and homes
- Bacteria from pet waste and failing septic systems
- Soil from construction sites and other bare ground
- Soaps from car or equipment washing
- Accidental spills, leaky storage containers, and more
In addition to never dumping anything down a storm drain, abiding by the following actions will help prevent stormwater pollution:
- Clean Up Yard Waste: The excess quantity of grass clipping and leaves in the city can cause algae and rooted plant growth in lakes and streams, altering the natural ecosystem. Help alleviate this problem by sweeping yard waste out of the street, leaving your grass clippings on your lawn as mulch, or bagging them for curbside pickup.
- Clean up after your pets: Even when you leave pet waste on your lawn, harmful bacteria can make it’s way into storm drains and cause problems. Clean up and properly dispose of pet waste.
- Avoid Lawn Chemicals: Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides if possible. If you do have to use these chemicals, try to use organic materials and be sure to follow the instructions on the product carefully. Sweep any excess chemicals off the sidewalk and street.
- Contain your rain: Rain barrels, rain gardens, permeable pavement and other methods can help contain rain so it doesn’t become stormwater runoff. Rain gardens are designed so native plants can help catch rain before it enters storm drains. Rain barrels hold rain that falls on your roof so you can use it later to water your garden. Permeable pavement allows for water to be absorbed into the ground so it doesn’t contribute to stormwater runoff. There are many ways to contain your rain.
- Pick Up Trash: Litter that goes down storm drains can choke, suffocate, and disable wildlife. Tie your trash bags shut and put lids on garbage cans. Pick up litter when you see it, especially when it’s clogged in storm drains.
- Plant Trees: Trees are fantastic at slowing rain, helping reduce erosion and cycling water from the soil back into the atmosphere.
- Volunteer with Keep Omaha Beautiful! Volunteering is easy, fun and only takes a few hours of your time. Volunteer groups can range in size, age, and experience level. Volunteers help keep our community clean by cleaning up debris/litter around storm inlets, placing “no dumping” discs on the storm drains, and distributing educational door hangers to residents living near the marked storm drains about ways to prevent water pollution.
For more information about how our city deals with stormwater pollution, visit Omaha Stormwater. And always remember– only rain goes down the storm drain!