Stormwater runoff occurs when impervious surfaces, like driveways, sidewalks and streets prevent rain from naturally soaking (infiltrating) back into the ground.
Stormwater picks up debris, chemicals, insecticides, fertilizers, dirt, pet waste, and other pollutants that flow into a storm sewer system or directly to rivers, wetlands or coastal water. Any water which enters a storm sewer system without first being treated by a Best Management Practice (BMP), such as a detention or retention pond, a swale or raingarden, or some other BMP is untreated stormwater runoff which is then discharged directly into waters we use for swimming, fishing, and drinking – carrying the pollutants with it.
Moreover, there are times when the BMPs are not sufficient to treat the water – either through a design flaw, changing precipitation patterns, or increased pollutant loading.
Polluted stormwater entering into drinking water sources affects human health and taxpayers pocketbooks by increasing water treatment costs when that water needs to be used for potable water supplies. Polluted stormwater can also carry bacteria to beaches or other swimming areas, which can result in human health impacts and beach closures.
Stormwater also transports excess nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus from lawns, agricultural areas, and golf courses which can stimulate harmful algal blooms (HABs). HABs often cause a chain reaction resulting in the lowering of dissolved oxygen levels, loss of sea grasses, fish kills, and the degradation of water quality.
Some HABs are toxic to humans as well. Freshwater cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) can produce toxins which can affect the liver, skin or nervous system. Red tide blooms occur in the Gulf of Mexico and can be exacerbated by nutrient-laden stormwater runoff. Red tide can cause respiratory issues for some beachgoers and has been linked to fish kills and manatee deaths.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida advocates for better stormwater management, treatment and regulations to protect our region’s water resources from stormwater runoff. The Conservancy engages on this issue at both the local and state level.
Locally, the Conservancy advocates that existing and new developments have sufficient stormwater treatment in place and do not exacerbate any current water quality problems, or create new ones. At the state level, the Conservancy has been involved in the development of updated statewide stormwater rules which now need to be adopted and implemented.
CLICK HERE to learn how you can help reduce pollution from stormwater runoff and protect our water resources.
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