Why is Stormwater Runoff So Important to Our Community?
As stormwater runoff flows over various surfaces such as streets, parking lots, rooftops and construction sites, it picks up debris, chemicals, sediment and other pollutants and carries them into local streams and rivers by way of the storm sewer system. Many citizens do not realize that stormwater drains are not connected to the City’s wastewater treatment system. Therefore, instead of being treated at a wastewater facility prior to discharge, the stormwater that enters these drains (along with all of the pollutants that they carry) flows directly to our nearby streams and ponds (such as Town Run or Abrams Creek). These pollutants adversely affect the water quality of our streams. Increased peak stormwater flows due to development can cause erosion and further degrade the health of the stream.
Stormwater pollutants originate from many different sources ranging from fuel and oil on roads, litter dropped on streets, fertilizers and pesticides on lawns and sediment from building sites. Typically for municipalities and urbanized areas, the most common pollutants associated with stormwater include sediment, nutrients, organic matter, bacteria, oils and greases, heavy metals, suspended solids, salts, litter and other debris.
Typically for municipalities and urbanized areas, the most common pollutants associated with stormwater include oils and greases, salts, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, suspended solids, litter and other debris.
What is a Watershed?
A watershed is an area of land where the majority of the stormwater drains into the nearby streams, rivers or creeks. Since all water runs downhill by the force of gravity, watershed boundaries are typically comprised of ridge tops or high elevation areas. A watershed can be very large and can cover several states, such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which encompasses portions of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Watersheds can also be very small, though, consisting of just a few small streams or wetlands area, much like the Opequon Creek watershed in Winchester.
The City of Winchester is located within the broad Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This means that all of the stormwater present in Winchester could eventually make its way to the Chesapeake Bay. However, the smaller watersheds within the City include the watersheds for Town Run, Abrams Creek, Hogue Run, Buffalo Lick Run and Redbud Run. All of these smaller watersheds eventually contribute to the Opequon Creek watershed.
After the Storm— a television show co-produced by The Weather Channel (TWC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – provides more detailed information about stormwater management and watersheds:
- After the Storm: EPA Storm Water Problems, Part 1
- After the Storm: EPA Storm Water Problems, Part 2
- After the Storm: EPA Storm Water Problems, Part 3
- After the Storm: What is a Watershed
What can I do if I observe illegal dumping or other types of pollution?
Citizens are encouraged to call the appropriate “hotline” to report illegal dumping into storm drains (defined as “illicit discharges”) as well as less urgent issues such as general problems observed in the stormwater system.
Urgent issues include observing illegal dumping or spills of potentially toxic or hazardous materials and should be reported to 540-662-4131.
Less urgent issues should be reported to 540-542-1346 and include observations of erosion and sedimentation problems (sediment in streams or ponds or failing silt fences at construction sites), stormwater issues (such as flooding and drainage problems and/or stream or lake pollution demonstrated by odors, cloudy water, oil sheens, dead fish), and maintenance issues (such as clogged inlets associated with stormwater pipes and problems at stormwater ponds).
What can I do to help prevent pollution and/or conserve water?
The most effective way to reduce stormwater pollution is to stop it entering the system in the first place. You can help reduce pollution and keep our environment clean by making simple changes in your daily lifestyle. Individuals can help reduce stormwater pollution through the following actions:
Proper Disposal of Household Chemicals
Take unwanted household chemicals to hazardous waste collection centers. Do not pour them down the drain or discard with regular household trash.
Conserve fertilizers and pesticides
Minimize the use of fertilizer and do not apply immediately before heavy rainfall. Pesticides and insecticides can be toxic to humans, animals, aquatic insects and plants so carefully follow label directions or use alternatives whenever possible, such as traps, horticultural oils and insecticide soap.
Proper automobile care
Repair oil leaks from your car promptly. Recycle waste oil by taking it to a recycle center. Do not pour waste oil onto the ground or into a storm drain. Wash your car at a commercial car wash where the dirty water is treated and/or recycled. If you wash your car at home, use eco-friendly (non-phosphate) detergents.
Compost yard waste
Compost grass clippings, fallen leaves and yard trimmings. Alternatively, leave grass clippings on the lawn because they serve as a natural, nontoxic fertilizer. Never dispose of yard waste or leftover chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides) in the storm drain.
Pick up your pet's waste
Pet waste contains harmful bacteria such as E. coli and fecal coliform. Pick up pet waste and dispose in the garbage.
Do not feed geese in the park
Waterfowl can threaten human health through fecal matter when contaminated water or fecal droppings are ingested by inhalation of contaminated organisms. Feeding the geese in parks only makes the problem worse because it encourages them to stay.
Make Your Own Rain Barrel
During dry months, 40 percent of the average household's water consumption goes to outdoor watering. Rather than needlessly draining that water out of the faucet, gather rainfall in a rain barrel connected to the gutter system and use it to keep the lawn and garden green.
The benefits of rain barrels include the conservation of water (with the collection of rain water from roofs), saving money (by using collected water to water your garden and lawn for free)
and reduction of stormwater runoff (by collecting and diverting runoff from storm drains).
Just an inch of rainfall on a 1,000-square-foot roof will accumulate over 600 gallons of fresh water. When picking out a barrel, here are a couple of things to look for:
- Choose a model topped with a mesh screen that will keep debris out of the barrel and a lid that prevents mosquitoes from using the water as a breeding ground when it's not raining.
- Look for a barrel equipped with a side spigot where a hose can be attached and watering cans can be easily filled.
- Also, most rain barrels can hold up to sixty gallons of water, so make sure it's parked on a strong and steady surface.
Every day litter enters our streams via storm drains and illegal dumping. Volunteers are needed to assist cleaning up this unsightly litter so the City of Winchester has established an Adopt-A-Stream Program that is coordinated with the Virginia Department of Conservation (DCR). In this program, interested organizations such as Girl Scout troops or environmental groups coordinate with the City of Winchester’s City Engineer and DCR to “officially adopt” a segment of stream. Your organization will be awarded a sign advertising your efforts and each volunteer will receive a T-shirt with the City’s Adopt-a-Stream program logo.
Stream cleanup events are held approximately twice a year to pick up trash and debris from the streams. The events typically start in the morning (approximately 8 am) and last for about 3-4 hours. The City and DCR provide the citizens with all of the necessary field equipment (gloves, bags) for the event. In addition, the City provides the disposal of the collected material.
- Read The Easy 6 Step Process for Adopting a Stream.
- Read additional information on the Adopt-a-Stream program.
What does the City of Winchester do to prevent stormwater pollution?
The City of Winchester was designated by the State of Virginia as an “urbanized area” and was therefore required to obtain NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Phase II stormwater permit. The City has a separate storm sewer system that conveys only stormwater and is made up of streets with drainage systems, including curbs, gutters, catch basins, ditches, man-made channels, and storm sewers. The stormwater enters directly into receiving surface waters. With increases in impervious surfaces due to development and redevelopment, the quantity of stormwater typically increases and transports with it a typical spectrum of pollutants.
The separate storm sewer system is different from a combined system which collects both stormwater and sanitary sewer waste and conveys the combination to a wastewater treatment facility prior to discharge. Communities with combined sewer systems are typically challenged with undersized infrastructure and treatment facilities due to high peak flows associated with storm events.
As of March 2003, the City of Winchester is covered by a Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) Permit for municipalities with separate storm sewer systems. This permit requires the development and implementation of a stormwater management program consisting of six key elements including:
- Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts
- Public Involvement/Participation
- Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
- Construction Site Stormwater Runoff Control
- Post-construction Stormwater Management in New Development and Redevelopment
- Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations
- City of Winchester's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program Plan
- 2009 VSMP Permit Year 2 Annual Report
Other Regulatory Links
- Water Protection Ordinance
- More information on Watersheds
- Soil and Water Conservation Site of the Department of Conservation and Recreation
- Virginia Stormwater Management Program Permits
- Environmental Protection Agency's Stormwater Outreach Materials and Reference Documents
- Center for Watershed Protection's General Site