Storm Drains

In today’s society there is a much greater environmental awareness than at almost any time in our countries history. This can be seen in massive community clean up efforts, community recycling programs, countless conservation programs, and people searching for and purchasing products that are “environmentally friendly.” Unfortunately, many people are unaware that many of their daily activities are significantly impacting this nation’s water quality. This can be partly attributed to a misunderstanding of the difference between sanitary and storm sewers, and how they work.

Sanitary sewers collect wastewater from homes and industries and transport it to a local wastewater treatment facility where it is processed until it is safe to release back into the environment. These facilities are heavily regulated, and closely monitored by federal and state regulatory agencies to ensure the wastewater has been properly treated before it is released back into the environment.

Storm sewers on the other hand, simply convey rainwater to local streams and rivers before releasing it without treatment. This untreated water carries pollutants such as oil, grease, and heavy metals from our cars; yard waste, pet waste, fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides from our yards; sediment from construction sites; and wastes that are intentionally dumped into the sewers directly to local streams and rivers without ever being treated. This type of pollution is referred to as non-point source pollution. Although the typical sources of this pollution are small, their combined impact can be tremendous.

Type of PollutantsWhere it came fromWhat it can do
Sediment (dirt)Construction, agriculture, and mining sites not correctly using best management practices.Cover fish and aquatic habitats, destroy oxygen enriching riffle areas, shield other pollutants by disinfection from sunlight
Organic MatterYard clippings, failing septic tanks, not picking up after your petWhen organic matter starts to decompose, it uses oxygen. If enough matter starts decomposing, it can use up all the oxygen and kill off aquatic organisms. Also, animal and human waste can contain disease pathogens that pose a public health risk.
Nutrients (Phosphorous and Nitrogen)Over fertilizing lawns, soaps, animal and human wasteCreate algal blooms, which can destroy ecosystems. When algae die it contributes to the streams organic load. Organic decomposition uses up the stream's available oxygen and kills aquatic organisms.
Fuels, oils, and other automotive fluidsOutdoor car washing, placing motor oil into storm drains, parking lotsCreate public health hazards, block oxygen from diffusing into the water, halt photosynthesis, destroy habitat, clog fish gills and smother other organisms.
PoisonsImproper use of pesticides and herbicidesKill aquatic organisms
Inanimate objectsLitter, illegal dumping of tires and trashCreate flooding problems, cause stream bank erosion, and destroy habitats
Other, such as metals and industrial wasteMostly illegal dumping, bust can come from land disturbing activitiesThese items indirectly cause health problems by creating fish consumption limits and hinder drinking water supplies if not properly dealt with.

*Source: Gwinnett Adopt-A-Stream “The Gwinnett River”, Volume 6, No. 1, Spring 2003.

To raise awareness and help protect the water quality of the Tar River, the Environmental Health and Safety Office, with assistance from the ECU Environmental Health Club and ECU Conservation Club has implemented a storm drain marking project. Bright colored, circular markers, stating “NO DUMPING, DRAINS TO RIVER”, have been installed at storm drains across ECU’s campuses.

This being done to raise awareness of the impact our activities at ECU have on the Tar River. By informing people of where these drains discharge to, and the types of pollutants causing problems, we hope that Faculty, Staff and Students will begin protecting these drains from pollutants, not only on campus, but also throughout the Greenville areas. To learn more about storm marking programs see: National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

To find out ways you can help reduce storm water pollution at home, please visit: Water: Polluted Runoff.