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Speaking Points - Basic

Stormwater in North Carolina

Let’s Talk Laws, Rules and Regulations!

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Storm drains lead directly to the creek or stream nearest you.

Whatever you put on the yard or road may go into the storm drain and continue
to the creek.

Runoff pollution is water from storms, snowmelt or some other source that contains pollution picked up as the water travels over roofs, land and paved surfaces.

What’s in stormwater? Dirt, motor oil from roads and driveway, pet poop, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, de-icing agents, soaps and litter (to name a few).


40 percent of US rivers and streams are too polluted for fishing or swimming. In NC, the total is 35 percent of the areas we’ve checked that do not support their uses (fish, swim, drink, shellfish, etc.). That equals 930.8 miles! You could go to Key West and still need to travel 100 miles more to travel that far.

Also, three percent of lake acres and eight percent of estuary acres are in trouble (Estuaries are where fresh waters meet salt waters. They are rich in shellfish and heavily used for recreation.) Many shellfish beds in NC have been closed due to
runoff pollution.

Why is stormwater bad?

    • Mud covers up plants and bottom feeders living in creek
    • Chemicals hurt fish
    • Fertilizer can cause algae blooms
    • Beaches and lakes close
    • Fish die
    • Contaminated shellfish (clams, scallops, etc.) die or make people
      sick if eaten

People cause stormwater pollution without knowing it! But just a few changes make a big difference.

  • Don’t over-fertilize your yard (get a free soil test)
  • Don’t apply fertilizer (herb/pesticide) before a heavy rain
  • Wash your car on grass; better yet – use a car wash (it uses less water)
  • Maintain your car so it does not leak
  • Don’t pour leftover paint or chemicals onto grass roads or into drains
  • Maintain your septic system
  • Pick up after your pet
  • Sweep, don’t hose, your driveway clean (grass clippings, leaves)
  • Don’t put yard waste in gutters or curb. It washes into the nearest drain.


Stormwater in North Carolina
Stormwater is the #1 pollution source for N.C. streams.

The # 1 pollutant in stormwater – by volume – is dirt, primarily from development and agriculture. People make erosion happen, too, when they build on to homes, garden or just don’t have grass growing in the yard. Using a leaf blower on a dry day can move a lot of soil, too.

Over 930 miles of NC streams are polluted by stormwater. In just 930 miles, you could travel from Raleigh to Key West and still have another 100 miles to go!

The main source of oil in rivers, lakes and bays is people.

The amount released in eight months is estimated to equal what the Valdez tanker spilled in Alaska. (NYTimes, May 2002, Andrew Revkin).

The oil comes from being illegally dumped into storm drains, being poured on the ground and leaking autos. (Hint: If there’s grease on your driveway, it is going to the nearest stream!)

One gallon of used oil can contaminate one MILLION gallons of water.

A single quart of motor oil dumped down a storm sewer creates a two-acre oil slick.

On average, Americans create 448 gallons of used oil in a lifetime.

Lawns would be the fifth largest U.S crop (after corn, soy, wheat and hay) if they were harvested.

With 30 million acres of lawn in the U.S., the little bit of chemicals you put on your lawn really adds up! A study at NCSU shows many folks do not know how much, when or how to apply fertilizer so the yard benefits – instead of the storm drain!

At some lakes and beaches, dog wastes help create high bacteria levels, which
can endanger swimmers.

All dogs harbor E. coli, and fecal coliform bacteria. They carry salmonella and giardia, which can also make people sick. (Cats do, too, FYI, but no one walks bunches of them around area lakes!)

Almost half of all U.S. households include at least one dog. Studies show only 40 percent of dog owners “pick up” after our dogs.

If one inch of rain falls on a one-acre meadow, some of it will sink in and some will run off. Meadow runoff would fill a standard sized office with two feet of water (218 cubic feet). Should that one-inch rain fall on a parking lot the same size as the meadow, the run-off would entirely fill that office and well as the TWO next to it.

A one acre parking lot causes 16 times more run off than a one acre meadow

If you have a septic system, pump it every 3-5 years for long life. Badly maintained systems allow dangerous microbes and nitrogen from waste into nearby water.


Let’s Talk Laws, Rules and Regulations!

After decades of work to control concentrated sources of water pollution (think factory pipes discharging chemicals going into Lake Erie or the Cuyahoga River in flames), the federal government is now making “non point” runoff a priority. It is called “non point” because there is no one single LOCATION where the pollutants come from. Instead, the pollutants are everywhere you find people because people and animals are the primary source of this type of water pollution.

The U.S. EPA mandated that certain communities must take steps to reduce their runoff pollution. The communities are chosen based on population density, fast
growth or a location near sensitive waters.

These communities, sometimes called “Phase II Communities’ after the name of the mandate, are stepping into action using a six-point plan. The plan calls for:

    • Public Education and Outreach
    • Public Participation and Involvement
    • Illicit Discharge Detection
    • Construction Site Runoff Control
    • Post Construction Runoff Control
    • Pollution Prevention and Municipal Housekeeping

If you use public water, you may have a new fee for “stormwater” on your bill. The funds generated by these fees are used to accomplish the six-point plan. In many cities, that means creating a map of their stormwater system and checking the route for leaks, illicit hookups (straight piping), inspecting construction sites and installing best management practices (also called BMPS for short) to reduce the pollutants picked up by runoff. In some cases, BMPS address the volume, or amount, of stormwater generated.

Urban flooding can have many causes, but too little green space for too much asphalt is a common cause. When water can’t sink into the ground (like when it falls on roofs and roads), it collects wherever it can in low-lying areas. When that area is a city street, urban flooding can result.

Sedimentation ponds, detention ponds, rain gardens and constructed wetlands collect large volumes of stormwater. They also help screen out pollutants. Heavy pollutants may settle to the bottom or screened outlets can filter trash before the water goes to the nearest stream.

Sediment ponds need to be maintained as they fill up with – you guessed it – sediment! Ditches that carry water also need clearing if they become blocked with debris and flood surrounding areas. In most cases, property owners are responsible for this type of maintenance.