Frequently Asked Questions


What is stormwater runoff?

Stormwater that does not seep into the ground drains into a system of pipes, channels and arroyos and travels, sometimes many miles, before being released into the Rio Grande. The large North Diversion Channel in northeast Albuquerque, which you have probably driven over or biked next to, carries stormwater north until it flows into the Rio Grande near the Bernalillo and Sandoval County boundary.

Where does Albuquerque area stormwater go after it drains into a storm drain?

Stormwater that does not seep into the ground drains into a system of pipes, channels and arroyos and travels, sometimes many miles, before being released into the Rio Grande. The large North Diversion Channel in northeast Albuquerque, which you have probably driven over or biked next to, carries stormwater north until it flows into the Rio Grande near the Bernalillo and Sandoval County boundary.

What is polluted runoff?

Water from rain and melting snow either seeps into the ground or runs to lower areas, making its way into streams, lakes and other water bodies. On its way, runoff water can pick up and carry trash, debris and many substances that pollute water.

Some substances in the runoff—such as pesticides, fertilizers, oil and soap, dirt, pet waste, grass clippings and leaves—are created by human activity and can harm the Rio Grande.

In addition to rain and melting snow, various activities like watering and car washing can also put water onto the land surface which can carry pollution to our river.

Polluted runoff generally happens anywhere people use or alter the land. In developed areas, the water that falls on hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, parking lots or roads cannot seep into the ground. These impermeable surfaces create large amounts of runoff that can easily pick up debris, substances and dirt. Also, the runoff can erode stream banks. The mix of pollution and dirt muddies the water and causes problems downstream.

What is “Nonpoint Source Pollution”?

This term is used when you cannot tell where runoff was polluted or what the source of pollution was. The term comes from the federal Clean Water Act of 1987, and is used for all kinds of water pollution that are not well-defined discharges (point sources) from wastewater plants or industries.

Many state agencies have Nonpoint Source (NPS) Management programs that address polluted runoff. The New Mexico NPS Management Program is coordinated by the Surface Water Quality Bureau (SWQB) of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

What causes polluted stormwater runoff?

People living their daily lives are a large source of stormwater pollutants! Most of us don’t know how we affect water quality of the Rio Grande as we go about our daily business. Some common examples include over-fertilizing lawns, excessive pesticide use, littering, not picking up pet waste, using salt or other compounds to de-ice the driveway and letting oil drip out of vehicles.

Cities where a lot of people and animals live, construction, farming and other activities are major contributors to Nonpoint Source Pollution. Other contributors are forest-harvesting, roadways, and malfunctioning or broken septic systems.

Why do we need to be concerned about stormwater and polluted runoff?

Polluted stormwater runoff is a source of water pollution in the Rio Grande. In most cases, stormwater is either not treated at all or is not treated enough before it enters the Rio Grande. It is polluted by human activity, it will enter the river untreated.

Cleaning up polluted surface water can be very expensive. In Albuquerque, ground water has been used for our drinking supply, but soon we will be using river water as our primary source, and we’ll be drinking what goes into our rivers!

Polluted water also hurts wildlife in streams, rivers and lakes. Dirt from erosion (sediment) covers up fish habitats. Fertilizers can cause too much algae to grow, which uses up the oxygen in water that wildlife needs to survive. Soaps hurt fish gills and fish skin, and other chemicals damage plants and animals when they enter the water.

The amount of stormwater is also a problem. When stormwater falls on hard surfaces like roads, roofs, driveways and parking lots, it cannot seep into the ground, so it runs off to lower areas. A hard surface makes a big difference. A parking lot will shed 16 times more water than a meadow of the same size.

Because more water runs off hard surfaces, developed areas can also experience local flooding. The high volume of water can wash away stream banks and the wildlife that live downstream.

What type of pollutants are commonly found in stormwater runoff?

Here is a list of common stormwater pollutants and their potential sources:

  • Sediment – Usually one of the largest pollutants produced in cities and towns, sediment is especially found in areas where there is a lot of construction. Many other pollutants often attach to, and are carried by, sediment particles.
  • Nutrients – Phosphorus and nitrogen are nutrients often associated with stormwater runoff. Nutrients can come from landscaping (commercial and residential), leaks from sanitary sewers and septic systems, and animal waste.
  • Organic Matter — Sources of organic matter include leaves and grass clippings, animal/pet waste, garbage and litter.
  • Bacteria – High bacterial levels may be found in stormwater runoff from leaking sanitary systems, garbage, pet waste, etc.
  • Oil and Grease – Traffic and other activities on roadways produce oil, grease, and lubricating agents that are easily transported by stormwater.
  • Toxic Substances – Metals, pesticides, herbicides and hydrocarbons such as gasoline and methane can get into and be transported by stormwater runoff.
  • Heavy Metals – Heavy metals such as copper, lead, zinc, arsenic, chromium and cadmium are often found in stormwater runoff polluted by batteries, paints, motor oil and other items.
  • Temperature – stormwater runoff becomes warmer as it flows over hard surfaces. Water stored in shallow, unshaded ponds also becomes warmer.  Taking away natural plants and trees can open up water bodies to the direct sun.  As water warms, it may be harmful or even deadly to some fish and other life in the Rio Grande.

How can stormwater runoff be managed?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Preventing pollution from entering our water supply is a lot cheaper than cleaning up polluted water. Educating businesses and people about how to prevent pollution from entering waterways is effective. Laws that require people and businesses to take steps to prevent erosion are helpful in preventing stormwater pollution.

If it only affects streams and creeks, why should I care?

Streams and creeks feed into the Rio Grande. We all need drinking water, so we are affected when that water is polluted. And, when water treatment costs rise, the price of drinking water goes up.

If you like to fish, swim or boat, you may have been affected by advisories warning you not to get into the water because it’s not safe.

Businesses and homes flooded by stormwater runoff are greatly affected.

So, you can see—when we pollute our stormwater, everyone is affected!

How does the stormwater pollution affect me as a taxpayer?

When our water is polluted, we all pay in one way or another. Damage from flooding can raise merchant prices and insurance rates. Polluted water takes more money to treat before it can be used for drinking water. Tourism and recreation businesses suffer along with residents if swimming, fishing and boating are restricted.

Because everyone plays a role in creating the pollution in stormwater runoff, we all have a role in cleaning it up.

What can I do to reduce the amount of stormwater pollution I contribute?

Follow these simple steps:

  • petwastesign_webPet owners should pick up after their pets and dispose of pet waste by wrapping it and placing it in the garbage.
  • Don’t litter…not even cigarette butts. They are not biodegradable.
  • Be sure to wash your cars on the grass or at a car wash so the dirty soap doesn’t flow into nearby storm drains.
  • Turn your gutter downspouts away from hard surfaces (toward bushes, grass or trees) and fill bare spots in your yard to avoid erosion. Even better, use a rain barrel to catch the water. You’ll reduce runoff and conserve water.
  • Mulch leaves and grass clippings to keep them out of the gutter.  Don’t place them in the street.
  • Do not over-fertilize your lawn. And don’t apply fertilizers or pesticides before a heavy rain. If fertilizer falls onto driveways or sidewalks, sweep it up instead of hosing it away.
  • Fix your cars so they do not leak oil and other fluids
  • Keep lawn and household chemicals tightly sealed and in a place where rain cannot reach them. Dispose of old or unwanted chemicals at household hazardous waste collections sites or events.
  • Never put anything in a storm drain.
  • If you have a septic system, maintain it properly by having it pumped every three to five years. If it is an older system, be sure it can still handle the volume needed. Never put chemicals down septic systems because they can harm the system and seep into the groundwater.

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