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Stormwater Education

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The Basics

What is stormwater?
Stormwater is the rain that lands on our yards, streets, parking lots, and buildings and then either enters the stormdrain system or runs directly into a lake or stream.

How does stormwater get polluted?
As stormwater flows over our lawns, driveways and parking lots, it picks up fertilizers, oil, chemicals, grass clippings, litter, pet waste, and anything else in its path. The storm sewer system then transports these pollutants to local lakes and streams, and eventually Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. Anything that goes into a stormdrain or the road eventually ends up in our waters.  Polluted stormwater can also affect drinking water sources. This, in turn, can affect human health and increase drinking water treatment costs.

What is a stormdrain?
Stormdrains are the openings you see along curbs and in streets and parking lots. Rainwater enters the stormdrain and is transported through the storm sewer system to nearby ponds, lakes and streams, and ultimately to Tampa Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. Water that enters stormdrains does not go to a treatment facility.

What is a sanitary sewer?
A sanitary sewer takes household water and waste from toilets, sinks and showers, and transports it to a wastewater treatment facility. There, the water is treated and can be reused for reclaimed water.  Here in Florida, the sanitary sewers are separate from stormsewers.

It's the Law
According to federal, state and local regulations, no pollutants can be allowed to enter the surface waters, the storm sewer system, or even be disposed of in the roadways, as roads also lead to stormdrains. Pollutants that enter the water illegally are called illicit discharges. The rule of thumb is, if it isn’t clean water, it shouldn’t make it to the stormdrain, street, or into any water body. To learn more about local stormwater regulations click on "Pinellas County Stormwater Ordinance" under Related Links on the right. Any illicit discharge is punishable by fines of up to $10,000 per day. Fines range in amount based on the severity of the violation.

Examples of Pollutants: 
Sediment can cloud the water and make it difficult or impossible for aquatic plants to grown. Sediment also can destroy aquatic habitats. Principal Sources: Construction (dirt, gravel, grout, cement, etc)

Excess nutrients can cause algal blooms. When algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process that removes oxygen from the water. Fish and other aquatic organisms can't exist in water with low dissolved oxygen levels. Principal Sources: Fertilizers, yard debris, pet waste from residential areas; agricultural runoff.

Bacteria and other pathogens can wash into swimming areas and create health hazards, often making beach closures necessary. Principal Sources: pet waste. 

Trash & Debris —plastic bags, six-pack rings, bottles, and cigarette butts—washed into waterbodies can choke, suffocate, or disable aquatic life like ducks, fish, turtles, and birds.

Hazardous waste like insecticides, pesticides, paint, solvents, used motor oil, and other auto fluids can poison aquatic life. Land animals and people can become sick from eating diseased fish and shellfish or ingesting polluted water. Potential Sources: residential, commercial or industrial dumping or runoff; automotive leaks.

Exceptions to the rule:
Discharges from potable water sources, firefighting waters, non-chlorinated pool discharges (although we recommend using the water to water your lawn; it saves money and water).

Illicit connections:
No connection can be made to the stormsewer system to drain pools, plumbing, septic tanks, washing machines, etc. If you think you might have a potential illicit connection on your property, please contact your local stormwater department who will help you determine if the connection is legal.