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How to Be Stormwater Smart

Urban stormwater runoff pollution is a problem that has no boundaries, and neither does the solution! While the DEP Bureau of Clean Water works with counties, towns and other municipalities, construction firms, and industries to help them follow regulations to reduce stormwater runoff, Pennsylvania residents can also do their part to reduce stormwater runoff.


Why is Stormwater a problem?

In 2016, DEP labeled approximately 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania impaired for water supply, aquatic life, recreation, or fish consumption. Stormwater runoff pollution is one of the biggest reasons for this impairment.

Over the past 100 years, streets, parking lots, sidewalks, and roofs have been a steadily increasing part of our communities as we’ve developed more and more of the landscape. As a result, rain that would otherwise soak into the ground instead rushes over these nonporous surfaces and into storm drains, which send it directly into rivers and streams.

Stormwater carries an enormous amount of pollution, including sediment, car oil, lawn fertilizers, pesticides, pet poop (and viruses and bacteria), and cigarette butts. As you might expect, this has many negative impacts on streams and rivers.

  • Rivers are the source of our drinking water supply; when rivers aren’t healthy, public health risks increase.
  • Sediment harms aquatic life when it smothers macroinvertebrates and clogs spaces between rocks, destroying essential habitat for many species.
  • Fertilizers stimulate excessive algae growth, causing algal blooms that remove oxygen from the water. Fish and other aquatic organisms can’t exist in water with low dissolved oxygen levels.
  • Bacteria and other pathogens can wash into swimming areas and create health hazards, making beach closures necessary.
  • Debris—such as plastic bags, six-pack rings, and cigarette butts—washed into rivers can choke, suffocate, or disable ducks, fish, turtles, and birds.
  • Household hazardous wastes like insecticides, pesticides, paint, solvents, and motor oil can poison aquatic life.
  • Land animals and people can become sick or die from eating diseased fish and shellfish or ingesting polluted water.
  • Because groundwater levels don’t get fully replenished, springs and wells can go dry.

Seven Ways to Be #StormwaterSmartPA

Here are actions you can take to reduce stormwater runoff pollution at your residence and in your community. You’ll find more specific guidance on residential property stormwater best management practices in A Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater BMPs.

Have you come up with ways to be stormwater smart in Pennsylvania? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions and see your stormwater management photos on social media.  Share using the hashtag #StormwaterSmartPA, and help us spread the word to reduce stormwater pollution in Pennsylvania.

1. Know the impaired streams near you

MS4 application Visit our Pennsylvania stormwater GIS map site: Select your county, then select your municipality, and then hit “click to view features.” All the red lines are impaired streams. Click on the streams to see their names and causes of impairment. Then take steps to start making a difference.

2. Plant a rain garden

Rain gardens are native plants set in a hole or trench in the ground to help rain water infiltrate into the ground. The Penn State Extension Office provides a great how-to on the basics of planting a rain garden.  The Audobon Society of Western Pennsylvania offers some rain garden designs.

EPA tips for planting native plants in a rain garden

3. Set up a rain barrel at your residence

You can capture rainwater off your roof with a rain barrel, and then use the water in your garden or let it infiltrate slowly into the ground. There are various options, from very simple to more involved.

Rain barrel system from DCNR's iConservePA

4. Think about lawn care a little differently

Don’t overwater your lawn. Consider using a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler. Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly. Use organic mulch or safer pest control methods whenever possible. Compost or mulch yard waste. Don’t leave it in the street or sweep it into storm drains.

The Penn State Ag and Environment Center shares 10 tips to maintain your lawn and protect water quality from the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association:

5. Contact your local government

About 950 municipalities in Pennsylvania are required to have stormwater management plans, and most are also required to have Pollutant Reduction Plans. Contact your borough, township, city, or county office to find out their plans and how you can help implement them. They’ll welcome your interest. For example, municipalities are required to do public communications outreach to inform community residents about stormwater and may appreciate your help in organizing or publicizing an educational activity.

In addition, some municipalities may provide residents with stormwater management tools. For example, the Philadelphia Water Department provides free workshops and free rain barrels for residents, and helps cover the cost of other stormwater tools, such as downspout planters.

You won’t know how you can help or what programs you can benefit from until you contact your local government, so don’t wait.

6. Calculate the stormwater runoff on your property to make informed building decisions

EPA offers a stormwater calculator software tool that will estimate runoff at a location based on information such as soil type, landscape and land-use information, and weather. It may be useful to homeowners as well as to developers, urban planners, and landscape designers.

7. Join forces!

Volunteer and professional organizations and businesses throughout Pennsylvania are taking action to reduce stormwater pollution. They offer classes on how to set up rain gardens and rain barrels at home. They hold events to plant rain gardens in city neighborhoods or vegetation on streambanks or to pick up trash. They work to find funding solutions for municipalities’ stormwater efforts. And the list goes on.

Below are just a few examples of organizations in Pennsylvania to reach out to. There are so many there’s surely one near you. If not, start one!