July 1, 2015

Blustery winds, torrential downpour, and high humidity. Welcome to the desert southwest! All right, perhaps that is an exaggeration. Those are conditions present only for a few summer weeks in the desert southwest. During this time, the Greater Phoenix area can receive half of its annual rainfall in just a few short weeks.

While drenching our plants and washing the dust from our cars, this higher-volume rainfall poses problems for our environment. As the high water volume flows through our streets, it collects debris and pollutants, and dumps it into our storm drains. Storm drain systems handle rain runoff during rain events, however the water is largely untreated before it reenters our environment.

Rain runoff gathers visible items such as water bottles, soda cans, yard clippings, and other waste and transports it into storm drains. It also gathers smaller hard-to-see pollutants like oil and grease, dissolved metals like lead and copper, and unnatural amounts of sediment from oily driveways, constructions sites, and roadways. This water arrives untreated in our lakes and streams, potentially harming fish, birds, and insects, and leaves an unsightly mess.

storm drain

You can do your part to protect the environment. First, hum these catchy words to yourself as you wash your car or do yard work:

“Only rain in the storm drain.”



Ryder with his poo bags.

Next, exercise some of these tips to prevent these pollutants from entering our waterways:

  • Use commercial carwashes instead of washing vehicles at home. This keeps contaminants out of the storm drain and is a terrific way to conserve water.
  • Backwash pools directly into the private sewer cleanout on your property instead of into the storm gutter. Review the pool discharge rules on your municipality’s website (search “pool discharge”).
  • Pick up pet waste every time and be sure to dispose of it properly right away!
  • Home auto maintenance and repair can save money. Lay a ground covering under the working area when changing the oil or performing repairs in your driveway to catch oil, grease, metal fragments, and sweat from all that hard work! This makes clean-up a breeze and prevents contaminants from entering the streets. Take used oil to an auto parts store for recycling.
  • Bag, tie, and dispose of grass and yard clippings properly. Pesticides and fertilizers accumulate on plants and grasses. When exposed to rain, they will wash away with stormwater. These pollutants can cause excess algal growth in lakes and can harm sensitive species of fish, birds, and insects.
  • Monsoon thunderstorms bring much needed water to the arid southwest, so let’s work together to keep that natural source of fresh, clean water free and clear of pollutants so it can be enjoyed and used for this and future generations.

Remember, “Only rain in the storm drain.”

From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. Justin Bern is a Senior Water Quality Specialist in the Water Resources Department at the city of Scottsdale. He assists city environmental program coordinators to protect drinking water and water reuse infrastructure and maintain compliance with county, state, and federal environmental permits.