Storm-Water Information

Think Blue Maine - Clean Water Starts with You

What goes into a storm drain can wind up In Our Back Yard
The Real Truth about Storm Drains

We have all seen them along our city streets and in parking lots.  Most have heavy metal grates and contain some pretty dirty water.  Storm drains do their job, year after year, preventing flooding by draining away water when it rains or the snow melts.  The drains are a necessary part of the plan when we develop malls, parking lots, and streets.  They ensure sufficient drainage when the natural vegetation and landscape no longer exist to absorb the rainfall.  But where does this drainage (stormwater) go?

Since drains pick up nasty stuff like oil, antifreeze, nutrients, toxics, litter, and almost everything else that gets deposited on the ground, they must all be piped to the local sewage treatment plant, right?  That's what most people think but that is not the case.  Most storm drains discharge directly to the nearest waterbody, be it a lake, stream, river or coastal water.

Think of stormwater as a big broom sweeping materials into these waters. No responsible person would deliberately pour oil, antifreeze, or other pollutants into the water; yet, these same materials spilled onto the pavement are not given a second thought, even though they end up in the same place.

Perhaps worse yet, because of the misconception that storm drains provide treatment, these drains are often used to dispose of harmful materials such as used motor oil or pesticides.  The misconception is so prevalent that in many areas of the country, people have started storm drain stenciling programs to warn residents.  The message stenciled on the storm drain is clear:

Dump No Waste -- Drains to Stream/Lake/Bay...

To ensure that our waters stay clean for future generations we must all do our part to keep stormwater and storm drains as free from pollutants as possible.  The following are some things we can do to minimize stormwater pollution.

  •  Use care when filling fuel tanks or fluid reservoirs in cars, lawnmowers, or recreational vehicles.  Clean up any spills with absorbent material and dispose of the waste at an approved facility (landfill or transfer station)

  • Ensure that motor or recreational vehicles are not leaking oil or other fluids.

  • Never dispose of any material in a storm drain.

So the next time you see a storm drain, remember that it may be just an extension of the nearest river, stream, lake or coastal water.  As citizens it is our responsibility to keep stormwater as clean as possible to maintain the health of Maine's precious water resources.

This column was submitted by William LaFlamme, an Environmental Specialist with Maine DEP's Bureau of Land and Water Quality.  In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.  E-mail your environmental questions to or send them to In Our Back Yard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, Maine

National Pollution Discharge Elimination System
In 1972 the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) was created in Section 402 of the Clean Water Act.  The NPDES Phase II program is responsible for controlling and regulating discharges of pollutants to the waters of the State of Maine from smaller MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) so as to maintain and protect the water quality of Maine's streams, lakes, and rivers.

The Clean Water Act establishes environmental programs, which includes NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System), which mandates that our storm water be as clean as possible.  This program is designed to ensure that any stormwater from Old Town that goes to the river is clean and to  make sure that water activities such as swimming and fishing will be available for future use.

Under this program are six (6) minimum control measures:

  • Public Education and Outreach

  • Public Participation/Involvement

  • Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination

  • Construction Site Stormwater Runoff Control

  • Post Construction Stormwater Management

  • Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping

This is a call for help.  The EPA recommends that the public be included in developing, implementing, and reviewing stormwater management program, and that the public participation process should make efforts to reach out and engage all economic and ethnic groups.  Opportunities for members of the public to participate in program development and implementation includes serving as citizen representatives on a local stormwater management panel, attending public hearings, working as citizen volunteers to educate other individuals about the program, assisting in the program coordination with other pre-existing programs, or participating in volunteer monitoring efforts.

If you are interested in helping out with this program, please call the Old Town Public Works Department 827-3974.

What is Watershed?
A watershed is the area drained by a stream and all it's tributaries. Any rain that falls within the water shed will pass through the main channel.  John Wesley Powell put it best when he said that a watershed is:

"that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community":

The City of Old Town is in the Penobscot River Watershed.  Watershed range in size from under a square mile to hundreds of square miles (the Penobscot River).  The rain that falls within a watershed will eventually drain from the bottom of the basin through the main stream channel.  A watershed describes an area of land that contains a common set of brooks, streams and rivers that all drain into a single larger body of water, such as the Penobscot River.  All the tributaries that collect rainwater eventually drain into the Penobscot River and then into the Atlantic Ocean.  However, a water shed is more than a collection of streams and adjacent land areas, it is a natural resource system in which humans and other organisms interact with the land and its associated resources for sustenance, shelter and security.  The physical condition of a watershed, therefore directly affects the health and well being of natural and social systems within its divides and indirectly affects those systems beyond its divides.

The water that runs off the surface of the earth (lawns, driveways, parking lots and streets) picks up water pollution and deposits the pollutant in the brooks, streams and rivers as it drains the watershed.

This ultimately pollutes the brooks, streams, river and ocean.

The Stormwater Program can still use public involvement.  If interested call the Old Town Public Works Department 827-3974.

Storm Drains and Catch Basins and their Function
Storm drains and catch basins are the iron grating that is located by the curb on the roadways of the City of Old Town.  These storm drains are there to collect the waters that accumulate on the roadways, whether it comes by rain, snow, or other means.  The water goes into the storm drains which then flows into the Penobscot River.  Stormwater does not go to the wastewater treatment plant.

Now that we have established the function of storm drains let's talk about what other materials enter the storm drains by what we citizens do in our daily lives.

Did you sweep and wash down your driveway?  What happened to the oil, grease, anti-freeze and detergents that you used to wash the car?  What about pesticides that may have gotten on the driveway when spraying your plants or the fertilizer that you put on your lawn?  Did you mow your grass and let the clippings fly out into roadway?  All of these materials went into the street and the first rain washed them into the Penobscot River.  Lets talk about what happens when pollutants end up in the storm drains.  One quart of oil will pollute 250,000 gallons of water.  The pesticides that you use to kill plant-eating bugs will also kill fish.

The fertilizer that you use will also fertilize plants in the river and then consequently when the plants die they rob the water of oxygen.

Fertilizer contains large amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, which can cause algal blooms in aquatic areas.  These blooms deplete the oxygen in water resulting in fish kill.  Paint, even latex paint, can contain a variety of hazardous ingredients including lead, mercury and other organic solvents.  Pet waste is also considered raw sewage.  Allowing it to enter our waterways releases both potentially harmful bacteria and oxygen consuming materials.

If you would like to become involved with the Stormwater Program please contact the Old Town Public Works Department at 827-3974.

Pets and Pet Waste
Our pets are a very important part of our lives, they are members of our family, we supply them with proper food, and medical needs, a proper sleeping area and a lot of love.  Our pets have a digestive system like us humans.  This segment is to inform our citizens about pet waste and how we should dispose of it.

Pet waste is very harmful to our waters, it uses up oxygen, sometimes releasing ammonia.  Low oxygen levels combined with ammonia and water can be detrimental to the health of fish and other aquatic life.  Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (Eutrophication).  Eutrophic water becomes cloudy and green, making it unattractive or even prohibitive for swimming and recreation.  Pet waste also carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can post risk to human health and threaten wildlife.

There are hundreds of animals in the forest, and nobody seems to worry how their waste products affect the environment, so why should we worry about pet waste?

According to the U.S. Humane Society, 40% of United States households have at least one dog.  This is a much higher population density than your would find in a natural forest.  In the forest  this waste would be slowly broken down by microorganisms and would be filtered through the soil by rain and snowmelt.

What do I do with pet waste?  A preferred method is flushing the waste down the toilet.  This water goes to the treatment plant or a septic system that removes most pollutants before water reaches a lake or stream.  You could also bury the waste on your property keeping it away from your vegetable garden and not adding it to your compost pile.  Most compost piles won't get hot enough to kill disease organisms in pet waste.

"Owners" means any persons, firm, association or corporation owning, keeping or harboring a dog.  As an owner you must be responsible for cleaning up any feces of the animal and disposing of such feces in a sanitary manner.

Household Hazardous Waste
Should you be concerned about hazardous waste?  Many household products require special attention to their use, storage and disposal.  A product is considered "hazardous" if it is:
  • Toxic or poisonous

  • Ignitable/flammable

  • Corrosive

  • Reactive (can explode of exposed to heat, air, water or shock)

So the answer the question is YES.

Examples of Household Hazardous Waste:

  • In your home--oven cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, household batteries, old medicine, floor care products, nail polish and remover, bleaching agents

  • In your yard--weed killer, pesticide, swimming pool chemicals

  • In your garage--antifreeze, brake fluid, motor oil, gasoline, car batteries, paint and paint thinner, wood preservative, adhesive and glue

Tips of how to handle household hazardous waste:

  • Keep unused portions in their original containers with labels intact and readable

  • Store hazardous waste materials in a cool dry place away from children and pets

  • Avoid mixing different products--this can cause explosive or poisonous chemical reactions

Remember all hazardous waste must be disposed of  properly, never pour any waste down the stormwater drains.  Any waste discarded in a stormwater drain goes directly to the river and kills fish and plants.

Healthy Yards and Healthy Families
Before beginning an outdoor project, locate the nearest storm drain and take action to protect it from debris.  This may require you to sweep the street gutter between your project and the storm drain, before starting work.  Chemicals, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can be harmful to you, your family, plant and animal life.

  • Use them sparingly.  Read labels carefully and don't apply if the forecast calls for rain.

  • Use mulch instead of herbicides to prevent weeds from growing and to help absorb water.

  •  Select drought resistant native plants that conserve water and prevent runoff.

  •  Don't over-water your lawn.  Water during the cooler times of day and don't let it run off into the street.

  •  Drain swimming pools only when chlorine levels are not detected by your swimming pool test kit.

  •  Keep the street gutter in front of your house clean of leaves and grass cuttings.  Sweep up debris instead of hosing down your driveway. 

Helpful Habits Around the House

  • If you use hazardous substances such as paints, solvents and cleaners, use them sparingly, according to directions.  Store properly to avoid spilling.

  • If you use water-based paints, rinse paint brushes in the sink.  For oil-based paints, filter and reuse paint thinner.  Dispose of all used paints and materials through a hazardous waste collection program.  Never clean brushes or pour paint into the street or storm drain.

  • If you use other hazardous substances such as cleaners and solvents, properly dispose through a hazardous waste collection program.

  • Pick up trash or litter around your yard and home.

  • If you're working on a home improvement project, dispose of drywall, concrete and mortar in the trash.  Don't rinse concrete or mortar into the street.  Sweep up all project debris.

  • Pick up pet waste and dispose in the toilet or in a bag for the trash.  Bacteria from pet waste contains harmful bacteria that pollute our waterways.  Remember "Scoop the Poop!"

Vehicle and Garage Safety
Routinely check your car for leaks and keep it tuned up.  Car pooling or using a bicycle for transportation helps reduce pollutants on our streets.

  • Never pour any chemicals or other hazardous substances from cars down a storm drain, on to the ground or leave on driveways or parking lots.

  • When changing fluids from your car, drain into a clean container and seal completely.  Take the oil and the oil filter to a used oil collection site.

  • If you spill fluids, contain quickly with rags or kitty litter, safely dispose at a hazardous waste collection site.

  • If you wash your own car, use a shutoff nozzle on your hose and use detergents and water sparingly.  Wash your car on a landscaped surface where excess water can be absorbed instead if running into the street.

By working together we can make a difference.  Be a Clean Water Leader

The problem is that storm drains are not connected to the wastewater treatment plant.  So, what's in the streets flows directly into our lakes, rivers and the ocean, untreated.  As a Maine resident, you can make a difference by becoming a Clean Water Leader, both on the job and in your community, you can make our beaches and bays free of pollution.  When you're at home, share your knowledge with neighbors and family.  As you drive to work, be aware of any illegal discharges.  And, if you do see an illegal discharge, report in to your local town office.

Whether at home or at work, by adopting some simple Best Management Practices (BMP's), you can stop pollutants from being generated and entering our storm drain system.

  • Use dry clean-up methods for spills and outdoor cleaning. Vacuum, sweep, and use rags or dry absorbents.

  • Properly label, store and dispose of hazardous wastes.

  • Rake, sweep-up, and place all debris (dust, litter, sediment, etc.) from your yard or near your property into a trash can.

  • Use a mop where water is needed.

Here are some general guidelines you can use at home or on the job:

  •  Contain - Isolate your work area, to prevent any potential flow or discharge from leaving the area.
  • Control - Locate the nearest storm drain(s) and take measures to ensure nothing will enter or discharge into them.  This may require you to sweep-up and place debris & sediment in a trash can prior to beginning the work activity.
  • Capture - Once you have complete a job, be sure to clean-up the area.  If there is sediment, sweep it up. If there are liquids, absorb it or vacuum it up with a wet-vac.

Remember, what you leave behind can potentially be discharged into the storm drain!!