Urban Runoff Pollution

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Runoff pollution is increasing because the amount of land covered by parking lots, roads, roofs, and driveways, continues to grow.

Polluted Stormwater Runoff: A Growing Threat - Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Meanwhile, forests, meadows, and other natural filters are disappearing, and manmade filtration systems to control runoff have not compensated for the loss. With climate change potentially increasing the amount of precipitation, localized flooding can result as once designated "year storms" occur with greater frequency. Only 10 to 20 percent of rain that falls in forests, fields, and other natural areas runs off, with the rest absorbed by soil and plants.

By contrast, close to percent of the rain that falls on concrete and other hard surface produces runoff. An inch of rain falling on an acre of hardened surface produces 27, gallons of runoff. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, almost 5.

Low-Impact Development

More than a third of this developed land or 1. That means that about three percent of the Bay watershed is covered in impervious surfaces.

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The percentage of coverage by hard surfaces is much higher in urbanized communities: 51 percent in Baltimore; 46 percent in Washington, D. Click here for "Maps: Rivers at Risk".

How Stormwater Affects Your Rivers

Spread-out development patterns—also known as sprawl —largely comprise the prevailing form of new development across the Bay watershed, although there are signs that the alternative — more compact development within and adjacent to existing urban and suburban areas — is also occurring with more frequency. Smothers aquatic habitat, depletes oxygen, reduces water clarity, and carries nutrients and toxic contaminants.

Nutrients Excess fertilizers on lawns or fields, failing septic systems, and animal waste. Stimulates excessive plant growth, lowers dissolved oxygen levels, degrades aesthetics and destroys native aquatic life.

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We also track the progress of the permits that set pollutant discharge limits for different types of facilities. Permits are reviewed and updated every five years. Soundkeeper reviews and comments on proposed changes to the permits whenever they are renewed, aiming for the strongest possible protections to Puget Sound waterways.

At any given time, Soundkeeper has around ten active Clean Water Act cases to bring industrial polluters into compliance. Our field director and legal team work closely to identify high priority sites and determine where our work could make the most impact. We also won a permit appeal that resulted in stronger regulation of polychlorinated biphenyls PCBs , which are persistent, bioaccumulative and highly toxic. More information about our Clean Water Act lawsuits.

Urban Runoff

More information about permit reviews and appeals. Much of the contamination that washes into Puget Sound comes from our everyday activities—lawn fertilizer, pet poop, oil and grease from vehicles, improperly handled home chemicals, pharmaceuticals and even cosmetics show up in our waters. Soundkeeper works with key partners like EnviroStars and ECOSS to get the word out about the problem of stormwater and how individuals can help. Soundkeeper currently monitors water quality with the Mussel Watch program and conducts surveys of salmon in Longfellow Creek , which is heavily impacted by stormwater pollution.


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These activities engage local residents who care about the health of the Sound and provide information to scientists trying to quantify the magnitude of the stormwater problem and come up with solutions. View our stormwater infographic.