What is Polluted Runoff?

How to tackle Orange County’s sneakiest form of pollution

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Sometimes it’s obvious where pollution comes from. We know that when rain rushes down our storm drains, it carries hazardous chemicals from industrial and sewage treatment plants, manufacturers and scrap yards into our local waters. However, one form of pollution is much more difficult to pinpoint – polluted runoff.

What falls into the polluted runoff category?

Also called nonpoint source pollution, polluted runoff comes from many different sources when rainfall washes over the ground. As the water travels along, it picks up pollutants and eventually deposits them into our local waters. Sources of polluted runoff can include:

  • Fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural and residential areas
  • Oil, grease and toxic chemicals from urban areas and manufacturers
  • Sediment from poorly managed construction sites
  • Bacteria from livestock, pet waste and damaged sewer systems

Since polluted runoff comes from so many different sources, its impact on our local environment can be difficult to measure. However, we do know that these pollutants have visible effects on our water quality, threatening our environmental and public health.

How can you help?

As an Orange County resident, what can you do to make sure that you aren’t swimming in, drinking or fishing in polluted runoff? You can start by:

  • Keeping trash, pet waste, leaves and debris out of street gutters and storm drains. These outlets drain directly to lakes, streams, rivers and wetlands.
  • Avoiding using lawn and garden chemicals.
  • Disposing of used oil, antifreeze, paints and other household chemicals properly — not in storm sewers or drains.
  • Cleaning up spilled brake fluid, oil, grease and antifreeze instead of hosing them into the street.

Fighting polluted runoff may be a hard battle, but combating water pollution is ultimately everyone’s responsibility. If you see sources of polluted runoff in your neighborhood, you can report it here.


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