Consequences of Discharging into the Storm Drain

You might know that discharging waste into a storm drain is morally wrong, but did you know that it’s also very illegal?


It’s important to understand the distinction between a storm sewer/drain and a sanitary sewer. The sewer contains underground pipes that carry water from your home (sinks, showers, toilets) to a wastewater treatment plant. At the plant, the water is filtered and treated before it is discharged.


While storm drains also consist of underground pipes that carry water away, that’s where their similarities end. Storm drains carry rainfall runoff and other drainage to larger bodies of water like streams, rivers, and lakes. They’re designed to prevent flooding by transferring rainwater. This means that waste dumped into storm drains isn’t treated or filtered like water that goes through the sewer. Waste discharged into the storm drain goes straight to creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. You can think of discharging waste into storm drains as directly polluting these valued bodies of water. Construction debris, material stockpiles, automotive fluids, erosion, paint, pesticides, litter, industrial construction waste, and household materials are the most common storm water contaminants.


Polluting fresh water sources has a domino effect. Contaminants can poison fish. Murky water blocks the light that plants need to grow. This might not mean much to you, but consider this: contaminated water goes into bodies of water people swim in. This puts swimmers at risk by exposing them to potentially harmful chemicals and illnesses. Even drinking water can be contaminated by dumping or discharging into storm drains.

Put safety practices in place to prevent illegal dumping and discharging into storm drains. Work and storage areas should be kept clean; this includes preventing leaks. Install erosion controls and ensure maintenance of the erosion controls is a priority. Keep potential contaminants away from storm drains. This includes hazardous fluids, soil, and sand. Don’t wash out materials into or near storm drains, and protect your worksite from storm water so there is no risk of water being contaminated. If you do have a spill, report it. It’s mandatory under Federal, State, and County laws.


These simple practices will keep you free of criminal penalties and fines related to illegal dumping into storm drains. Be sure to follow state and local storm water regulations and ordinances to prevent pollution of local waterways.

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