Stormwater is just what it sounds like. It is water that falls from the sky and either soaks into the ground or ends up in waterways. How does it end up there? Beneath your feet there are miles and miles of pipes which take clean stormwater out to our canals, rivers and the intracoastal, which all flow eventually to the ocean.
The problem is that sometimes not-so-clean water goes into the ground and storm drains too. Water from washing your car and water from putting out a fire are examples of water that travels through our storm drains. Water that runs off your roof or through gutters after a storm are other examples. That may seem like pretty clean water, but when it picks up chemicals and trash and grass clippings and leaves and even dog poop on the way, it is not so clean.
Let's make it real.
Go to your sink at a time when it is full of dirty dishes. Get a nice clean glass from a cabinet. Turn on your faucet and let the water run over the dirty dishes. Now put the empty glass near the bottom so that it fills up with the water that runs overs the dishes. When the glass is about half full, hold it up to a light or window and look at it. Is it clear and clean, or foggy and dirty? Would you drink that water? Probably not. This is a small scale model of what happens to stormwater outside.
What does it mean?
Stormwater starts off pretty clean but as it travels towards waterways it picks up whatever it touches. Fish and marine mammals and boaters and tourists don't like dirty water any more than you do.
In the worst cases, the water passes over things like pesticides (that's bug killing chemicals) and fertilizers (that's like vitamins for your plants) and herbicides (those are weed killers) and all sorts of things that fall out of cars on the streets, and it carries those chemicals into the rivers, lakes and other waterways. While those chemicals may be okay used the way they are supposed to be used, in the water they can make the fish and animals sick, they kill native plants, they can make non-native plants grow faster, they can make swimmers itchy, and they can do lots of other annoying and harmful things too. In short, they can make our water ugly and dangerous. Who wants that?
What can a kid do?
Follow Stormy's tips for pollution prevention and share them with the adults in your life.
Clean up after yourself even outside. When you play outside or do art projects, be sure to clean up completely. Small toys, sidewalk chalk, balloons, balls, paint and more can get washed away with stormwater. Before you go inside, check everywhere you have been and clean up completely. Make sure to take in your drink cups and food wrapper too.
Watch your storm drain. First, with the help of an adult, find the storm drain nearest to where you live. This is where your stormwater flows. Never put anything in that drain. It is not a trashcan. Never, ever put your arms, legs or any body part into the storm drain. You can be very hurt. If something valuable rolls down there accidentally, get an adult to call our 24-hour Customer Service hotline at (954) 828-8000. If you see an animal trapped inside a storm drain, you can call Fire Rescue at (954) 828 5856.
Use your green cart if you have one. If you help around the yard, planting seeds, picking rotten fruit, or pulling dead leaves and branches off your plants, be sure that all of that yard waste goes into your big green rolling cart. Don't leave it where it can be washed into the storm drain. Never clean up using a hose. Always sweep clippings instead. If you help with mowing the grass, you can use the clippings as mulch around your trees and plants, or you can put them in your green cart. Just don't leave them in the street or on the driveway.
Pick up after your pet. We know it's natural, but dog poop is something we don't want in our waterways. It has bacteria that the marine plants and animals just can't handle. Throughout Fort Lauderdale it is the law to clean up after your dog and throw the poop in a trashcan. We know it's a chore, but Fido can't do it himself. In your yard, on the sidewalk and any where else, please scoop the poop. You can find out more about it here.
Close your trashcan, cart and dumpster lids. Don't let litter blow out of those containers and into the street. It will get washed down the drain.
Teach the adults in your life about swales. Okay, first you have to learn what a swale is. What is a swale? A swale is the long strip of grass in-between the sidewalk and the street that collects rainwater, filters pollutants, controls flooding, prevents erosion, and provides a drainage area for stormwater. A swale is a very useful thing. Water that flows down through it comes out clean by the time it seeps down into the aquifer. So take care of you swale by:
- Following all the rules above.
- Asking the adults in your home who drive, and visitors, to avoid parking on the swale.
- Picking up any trash from your swale or front yard
Don't water the sidewalk or driveway. Let's face it, you are probably outside enjoying yourself way more than your parents. As you have fun and explore on sunny days, look for really wet spots where they should not be. Is the sidewalk wet when nothing else is? Is there water in your driveway when it has not rained? These may be clues that your irrigation system is not working properly. An irrigation system is supposed to water the plants, not the street, sidewalk or parking lot. Most of the time the problem is that the little "faucets" in the ground are rotated in the wrong direction. It's an easy fix when someone knows about it. Whether you live in a house or an apartment building, if you think that the irrigation system may be watering in the wrong direction, please tell a grown up. They may never notice without you!
Point out things that don't look right. Now that you know a little bit more about stormwater pollution, you can be very helpful. If you see something leaking from a car, say something right away. If you see a gardener blowing leaves into a stormdrain, tell the nearest trusted adult. Stormy thanks you!