City looking for help to curb storm drain pollution

City of Austin storm drain (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)
City of Austin storm drain (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Ever wonder where all that water goes when it rains? To prevent flooding of streets and homes, stormwater runoff flows down neighborhood drains, but the pollutants in that water are not removed.

Now the city of Austin Watershed Protection Department is calling on volunteers to help make sure the communities stay clean and green when the rain comes.

“We have 1,000 miles of storm drain pipes running underneath Austin,” said Katie Sternberg with the Watershed Protection Department.

Anything that is carried into the drains — from petroleum to pesticides, pet waste to car soap — disappears through the drain. Only, it doesn’t disappear at all.

Storm drain signs serve as a reminder to people where the stormwater is going (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)
Storm drain signs serve as a reminder to people where the stormwater is going (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)

“We have a system of creeks and the creeks eventually end up flowing to our lakes, particularly to Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin,” Sternberg said.

Volunteers will be placing markers on the drains as a visual reminder that the drains run directly to creeks. You would also be distributing door hangers to remind people where the water is going.

Unlike sewage, stormwater receives no treatment before it lands in our lakes.

With the many types of pollutants getting introduced, they have various effects on our ecosystem. Plastic bags, straws, bottles and other litter not only pollute the waterways they can be harmful to the animal life. Some get caught up in the plastic bags while others will try to consume these plastic items. Yard clippings can block the waterways and impede the flow of water, which in time increases the amount of waste in certain areas and can even cause the drain to get clogged.

By placing a small  round marker on the top of the drains that reads “No dumping, drains to creek,” it will help remind neighbors to keep them clean by:

  • Sweeping driveways instead of using a hose
  • Picking up after your pet
  • Planting native species that don’t need extra water or fertilizer
  • Recycle your used motor oil. If you have an oil leak or any other vehicle leaks have them repaired
  • Wash your vehicle in the yard rather than the driveway and always use biodegradable phosphate-free soap

For information on the Austin Storm Drain Marking Project and how to volunteer, please visit provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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