North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Stormwater and Runoff Pollution banner
What is Stormwater Pollution?
When it rains, some of the rainwater soaks into the ground, and part of it flows over the ground and directly into creeks, streams or rivers. This water that runs off into the river is called runoff, or sometimes stormwater runoff. Clever, huh? Sometimes this stormwater runoff gets polluted. Pollution is anything that harms natural resources, whether it is air, soil, or in this case, water. Sometimes the pollution is something you can see, like trash floating on top of the water. Other times you can’t see the pollution at all, like when motor oil from a car washes into a nearby creek. Polluted runoff is the number one cause of water pollution in the United States, and North Carolina is no exception. So, who is to blame? Who is making the water that we drink and swim in dirty? We all are... take a look.
Many things we do and that happen around us every day can cause polluted runoff. Here are a few examples...
Washing The Car
Have you ever washed your parents’ car? It’s fun, and you can soak your friends
with the hose! If you wash the car in the driveway, all of the soap, scum, and oily grit run down into the storm drain. Did you know the storm drains on your street and in your neighborhood carry rainwater away from your house, apartment building, or yard directly into the streams and rivers near you? If you live in the country, water from your yard may go into a ditch and then flow to streams and rivers. If you live near the coast, it may go straight to the ocean. It is not cleaned or treated along
the way, so anything that goes to the storm drain or ditch goes into the water. Soap and oily grit aren’t good for the animals in the river, and they aren’t good for us when we use the river water for swimming or drinking.
Vehicle with soap suds
House with Downspout
So, do you get to tell your parents that you will not wash the car? Sorry, there’s a better solution. Wash the car on the lawn instead of the street or driveway. Streets and driveways are made of asphalt, which is impervious, meaning that water can’t go through it. The lawn is pervious, meaning water can soak into it and it will not go straight to the storm drain. When people wash their car on a pervious surface, or better yet take it to a car wash where the water gets treated, they help reduce stormwater pollution.
Curbside Stormdrain with Litter going in

Do you ever see people throw trash out of cars or on the ground? You surely don’t do that, DO YOU?! Litter on the street washes into storm drains and ditches, then ends up in creeks, rivers, and lakes. It harms water quality and wildlife. A tiny cigarette butt can take 25 years to break down! So, don’t litter, and tell others to keep their butts in the car!

Fertilize Spreader
Lawn Care

Some people use fertilizer on lawns to help them grow. When people use more fertilizer than their lawn needs, or if they fertilize just before it rains, a lot of fertilizer ends up in runoff and not on the lawn. You know what happens next... down the storm drain and into the river. Fertilizer helps things grow, but when it gets in water, it helps algae grow. Algae blooms can cause major problems in waterways because they use up oxygen needed by other river critters. What can people do who want to fertilize their lawn? Only use as much fertilizer as the lawn needs, and try not to fertilize before it rains.

Another thing to think about is the grass clippings left after you or your parents mow the lawn. What gets done with the leaves you rake? Putting grass clippings, leaves, and yard debris in the street, storm drain, or ditch can cause problems for you and your water. Storm drains can clog, streets can flood, and water can become polluted. To avoid this, use clippings as fertilizer, use a mulching lawn mower, compost leaves and clippings, or bag them for yard waste collection day.

Fish Jumping
Let’s Talk About Poop

No, really, let’s talk about poop. Does your family own a dog? Do you know other people with a dog? What do you think happens to all of the dog waste our pets leave behind? Right... down the storm drain and into the water! When you think about how many people own dogs, this can really build up! Did you know dog waste contains bacteria that can harm people? These bacteria end up in the water that we drink when people don’t pick up after dogs. Don’t worry! Nobody has to give up his or her pooch! Pet owners can improve water quality by picking up after their pets and throwing their pet’s waste into a trashcan.

So, you can see that many causes of stormwater pollution are activities that people do everyday. Many people do not even know that what they do is polluting their water.

Dog Poop graphic
Dog Poop Billboard
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
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Who Cares Anyway
Okay, some of the water in North Carolina is polluted. Big deal. Should you really care? Does it really affect you? Well, think about this:
  • Do you like seafood? After a rain, some shellfish beds in North Carolina get closed due to polluted runoff. Of the state's approximately 2.1 million acres of shellfish beds, 18 percent have been closed. Only 10 percent of the areas closed were not impacted by stormwater runoff pollution. Closed shellfish areas equal 569 square miles, an area larger than Wayne County, NC.

  • Where does your drinking water come from? 55% of North Carolina’s citizens get their drinking water from a surface water source.