Why is Stormwater a Problem?


Storm drains (like those found along curbs) do not go to wastewater treatment plants. Water entering storm drains flows untreated into streams, rivers, ponds, wetlands, lakes, sounds, bays, and oceans.

Stormwater picks up and carries numerous pollutants into our waterways. Many of these pollutants can cause problems in very small amounts. Polluted stormwater runoff is so varied and so widespread that it is very difficult to address its sources.

Did you know that sediment is the number-one pollutant in the country and in North Carolina? Sediment comes from anywhere soil is disturbed and is allowed to enter waterways. When it is suspended in the water, it clouds water and suffocates aquatic life. When it settles out of water, it deteriorates habitats for fish and plants by burying stream riffles, which add oxygen to water.

Fertilizers are water pollutants as well. Fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus, which promote algae growth. Excess algae crowds out other aquatic life and can cause a water body to have insufficient oxygen. This lack of oxygen is one of the primary causes of fish kills in some North Carolina rivers. Fertilizers are often used alongside pesticides on agricultural fields and even at home in the garden; pesticides are toxic chemicals meant to kill insects and spiders, which of course kill other animals as well. Fertilizers and pesticides have also been linked to developmental defects in amphibians.

Pollutants from your lawn and driveway can also impact stormwater. Antifreeze and oil from cars are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. Bacteria and parasites from pet waste and leaking septic tanks can make nearby lakes and bays unsafe for recreational use and have caused many waters to be closed to shellfish harvesting. Stormwater runoff can also contaminate wells and groundwater.

In larger amounts, excess stormwater causes flooding and damage to the environment that is difficult and costly to clean up.

Because polluted runoff is caused by so many of our everyday activities, we all need to do our part to help improve water quality. Check out our stormwater infographic to learn simple steps you can take around your home, at your job, and in your community to improve water quality and keep our water safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing!

A great way to reduce water pollution that also protects and enhances your property is to plant and maintain stream buffers near creeks and streams. Stream buffers are strips of trees and other vegetation that:

  • improve water quality by filtering pollutants from stormwater runoff such as oil, fertilizers, pesticides, and pet waste.
  • reduce flooding and erosion by stabilizing stream banks.
  • moderate stream temperature and sunlight, keeping fish and other aquatic life healthy.
  • provide nesting and foraging habitat for many species of birds and animals.

Vegetation along streams is critical to the health of our water supplies and our environment, so it is critical that we do our part to maintain stream buffers so they can protect the health of our streams.

Additional Resources

Check out our Outreach Resources in both English and Spanish for more community-friendly materials!