Stormwater runoff can lead to water pollution

Carolina Clear

Temporary beach closures due to high bacteria levels have been common along the Grand Strand this summer, especially after a big rain. Anything that washes away with the rain often turns back up in our rivers or on our beaches.

Our rivers and the ocean are a vital part of life in the eastern Carolinas. Some of us work on the water, some of us play on the water, and most of us drink the water. So it is important that we keep it clean, and that starts with what washes down the storm drains.

Katie Altman is a Water Resources Agent with Clemson Extension. She says “Every time it rains on land, that rainwater has to go somewhere, so eventually it ends up in our rivers here. So if you are in a city, like Conway, you will see storm drains along the streets. That is where that rainwater goes and then moves directly into our waterways, it doesn’t get processed or treated along the way. So any pollutants you put on the ground are going to travel with that rain water.” 

Common sources of pollution in our waterways are excess nutrients from using too much fertilizer, trash and litter from the side of the road, oil and other fluids that drip from motor vehicles, and bacteria from pet waste.

“Any pet waste on your lawn or paved surfaces are going to get picked up by rain water and transported into our waterways. Of course wildlife, there is waste all the time, but you have these large forested areas that are able to handle that bacteria and pull alot of it out. But when we have a huge number of pets in a small area like we do in our cities, that pet waste builds up and can lead to big problems with bacteria in our waterways.” Katie Altman, Clemson Extension Water Resources Agent

Bacteria is one of the most common pollutants in South Carolina waterways, and it impacts the health of humans and can spread disease.

Testing has determined that the main source of fecal bacteria in Horry and Georgetown County waterways is from dogs, so picking up and throwing away dog waste will help keep beaches open.

Here are some other tips to keep our water clean:

* Clemson Extension recommends that you test your soils, and that is a service that they provide. You take soil to your local Extension agents, and then you know exactly how much fertilizer to apply. If you don’t do that and just kind of put a guessing amount of fertilizer out on your lawn, anything that your plants don’t use get caught up in rainwater and float right into our rivers causing things like algae blooms and fish kills. 

* Anything that leaks out of your car like oils or antifreeze and ends up on the roadways gets picked up by storm water and travels over the roadways, goes through the stormwater system and deposits straight into our rivers, and it doesn’t get pulled out of the water. There is no treatment plant between the storm drain and the river. Oil is a chemical that is going to have a huge impact on wildlife in your river and it is difficult to remove once it is there. Recycling facilities will actually allow you to recycle your old cooking oil and your old motor oil, so check out your local recycling facility to see if that is an option. 

* Grass clippings and leaves should be mulched and left on the lawn, or composted. They should not be allowed to wash down a storm drain. Nutrients released when grass clippings and leaves decompose can lead to algae blooms and fish kills in ponds and rivers.

*Geese are migratory birds that naturally spend winters in the Carolinas. When they stay year round their waste adds excess bacteria to ponds, reducing water quality. Do not feed geese and try to make ponds less friendly to the geese, to encourage  them to fly back north for the summer.

* You will see that when we have high amounts of rain water we have beach closures, and that is because that rain water is picking up bacteria from things like pet waste and failing septic systems, and carrying them straight out onto our beaches through our rivers and streams. So that by reducing the bacteria on land, by doing things like properly maintaining your septic tank, or picking up your dog’s poop, it is going to reduce the amount of bacteria on our beaches, and then we get open beaches more often. 

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