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Erase the Waste


What is Stormwater Pollution and How is it Created?

Stormwater pollution is a major environmental issue in California, leading to unsanitary living environments, unhealthy surface waters, such as lakes, creeks and rivers, unhealthy ocean and beach conditions, and street and neighborhood flooding during the rainy season. It’s created when pesticides, trash, cigarette butts, animal waste, motor oil and other contaminants left on the ground are washed directly into local waterways. This pollution mixes with millions of gallons of rainwater and flows untreated into local creeks, rivers and the ocean – polluting our waterways, as well as degrading neighborhoods and other natural resources.

What are the Major Stormwater Pollution Issues the State of California addresses? With more than 35 million people living in California, each resident’s contribution to stormwater pollution adds up quickly to create a serious environmental situation.

Leading water issues include:
  • Watershed protection – A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place (i.e. a river, creek, lake, etc.). Ensuring water quality and protecting the health of watersheds throughout California are a top priority for the State. In this effort, the California Water Boards oversees the Clean Water Team, a citizen water monitoring program that allows residents to take an active role in monitoring local water quality. The Water Boards also actively support watershed councils in their work to develop regional strategies to reduce pollution and ensure sustainable watershed health.
  • Urban runoff – In metropolitan areas, much of the land is covered by buildings and pavement, which do not allow rain to soak into the ground. Instead, most developed areas rely on stormdrains to carry this runoff water to nearby waterways. The pollution created in neighborhoods and left on the ground, including oil, dirt, pet waste, fertilizers and pesticides, are carried by water runoff directly to local streams, rivers and the ocean, where they seriously harm water quality. Most of these pollutants are derived from the large population of residents in these urban areas and their polluting behaviors. The good news is that through public education programs, such as the California Water Boards’ Erase the Waste campaign, residents are learning that their small everyday actions can add up to help reduce pollution in their areas. Through small things such as utilizing pesticides and fertilizers conservatively, properly disposing of motor oil and picking up after their pets, residents can help prevent additional pollution in their communities.
  • Non-residential Sources – Throughout California cities, urban areas contain up to 90 percent hard surfaces, such as rooftops and pavement where water collects quickly and flows into stormdrains. (Report by State Boards). Runoff from construction sites, buildings, restaurants, and gas stations create a major problem causing non-residential pollution.

What Are the Effects of Stormwater Pollution?

Degradation of Natural Resources – Research conducted by regional agencies, respected environmental non-profit organizations and academic institutions have identified stormwater pollution and urban runoff as one of the leading sources of pollutants to inland rivers, creeks, the ocean and beaches along the state. The widespread critical issue has reached a level that has prompted local, state and federal policymakers and regulatory agencies to enact and enforce more stringent stormwater permit regulations, financial penalties and other compliance measures. Environmental effects include:
  • Risk to Wildlife and Sea Life – Contaminated waterways pose a dangerous threat to wildlife and sea life. In California, there have been many incidents where sea life is affected directly by pollution and contaminated waters.
  • Closure of Beaches – Throughout the past several years, hundreds of California Beaches have been closed due to pollutants. Stormwater contaminants are one of the main causes of increased bacteria levels at California beaches.
Public Health Risk – Stormwater pollution creates serious health risks to people swimming or fishing in contaminated waters, especially within 400 yards of stormdrain outlets.
  • A study conducted by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project (and partially funded by the State Water Resources Control Board) found that stormwater pollution in the ocean leads to increased risk of viral infections, earaches, sinus problems, fever, flu and skin rashes and viral diseases such as hepatitis for those swimming in the ocean close to stormdrain outfalls, especially following a rainstorm when litter and contaminants are flushed into the stormdrain system. The Governor’s Clean Beaches Initiative (CBI), funded by portions of four voter-approved bond measures, has already begun the clean up effort statewide through construction of diversion and treatment facilities.
  • Of the 327 beach locations throughout California monitored by Heal the Bay, thirty-five percent failed to meet human health standards during wet weather in Heal the Bay’s 2003-2004 Beach Report Card.
Neighborhood Value and Involvement – When stormdrains become clogged with trash and debris, it can result in street and neighborhood flooding during the rainy season. This water backup can lead to closed roads and increased traffic, and create an unhealthy environment of smelly and unsanitary conditions in communities, worsening local aesthetics and lowering property values. The cleanliness of communities has a further impact on the financial and personal investment residents make in their property, and contributes to the overall sense of community pride and civic engagement.

Stormwater pollution is created when trash, cigarette butts, animal waste, pesticides, motor oil and other contaminants left on the ground are washed or thrown directly into stormdrains.

Economic Impacts – California’s coastline is one of the state’s most breathtaking natural features. Millions of visitors come to view the beauty of the California coastline and partake in the recreational activities the ocean provides. California’s beaches generate $1 billion per year in direct revenue. When indirect benefits are added, California’s beaches contribute $73 billion to the national economy and generate 883,000 jobs nationwide – all of which depend largely on the access and enjoyment of clean waters. If the perception of our beaches deteriorates, it poses broader implications for the state’s financial growth.

Ways to Reduce Stormwater Pollution

With the large population in California, even small, individual action steps to reduce stormwater pollution can add up to big changes. Here are a few simple actions residents can take:
  • Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly, by spot applying. Consider using non-toxic or less toxic products.
  • Always put your cigarette butts in an ashtray.
  • Join or organize a community clean up to help protect your neighborhood.
  • Throw trash in a trash can or recycling bin (as appropriate), not on the ground or into the stormdrain.
  • Clean up after your dog every time.
  • Recycle your used motor oil. Never dump it onto the ground or into a stormdrain.
  • Become involved in watershed protection. There are numerous groups that offer opportunities for ongoing involvement in water monitoring and waterway clean ups.
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle materials whenever possible.
  • Learn more ways to reduce stormwater pollution.

With the large population in California, even small, individual action steps can add up to big changes.

10 Ways You Can Erase the Waste and Prevent Stormwater Pollution

Stormwater pollution is a serious issue in California – one that leads to water quality issues, increased health risks, neighborhood flooding, unsanitary living environments and unsafe ocean and beach conditions – as well as high costs to clean up tons of pollution each year. Stormwater pollution is created when litter, fertilizers, animal waste, cigarette butts, motor oil and other contaminants left on the ground are washed or thrown directly into stormdrains, where this toxic soup clogs gutters, causing neighborhood flooding and pollution of our local rivers, creeks and the Pacific Ocean.

Through the Erase the Waste stormwater pollution prevention campaign, the California Water Boards encourage all California residents to take the following simple, everyday actions to improve the state’s water quality:
  1. Throw your litter in the trash can or recycling bin (as appropriate), not the street and never into the stormdrain. Dispose of all trash properly – fast food wrappers, Styrofoam cups, bottles and paper – every time.
  2. Always put your cigarette butts in ashtrays, not on the streets. Remember – our parks, playgrounds and beaches are not ashtrays. “Hold on to your butts” and help keep these places clean and safe.
  3. Volunteer to take part in watershed protection. A number of local and statewide environmental groups offer ongoing opportunities for involvement in water monitoring and volunteer opportunities in watershed protection/restoration.
  4. Pick up after your dog and dispose of waste in trash cans or the toilet. Bring extra bags on your walk to share with other pet owners. You can help cut down on the spread of disease carried by animal waste and maintain clean and healthy neighborhoods, beaches and waterways.
  5. Take action. Organize or join in the clean up of a beach, river or community. Join with your neighbors to adopt a local park or playground and organize a clean up event. Do your part to keep your community and waterways healthy and clean and encourage others to participate. Get involved and beautify your neighborhood!
  6. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle materials whenever possible. By following the Three R’s, you will be creating less waste that could end up on our streets and contribute to further stormwater pollution.
  7. Limit use of pesticides and fertilizers year-round – especially during the rainy season. Excess pesticides and fertilizers applied to your garden and yard will wash away in the rain, straight into the stormdrain system. Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and follow directions.
  8. Make it a practice to purchase non-toxic or less-toxic products for home and garden use. Dispose of all leftover toxic products at a local Household Hazardous Waste collection center. Visit www.earth911.org to find a location near you.
  9. Recycle your used motor oil and other automotive fluids by taking them to a certified used oil recycling center where it can be disposed of properly. For a location near you, visit www.earth911.org.
  10. Rake or sweep up sidewalks and driveways, rather than hosing them down. Using a hose forces debris and chemical residues into stormdrains, which can clog gutters and lead to street flooding and polluted waterways.


( Updated 11/17/08 )