Polluted Runoff

Polluted runoff—stormwater from developed areas containing a toxic brew of heavy metals, grease, pesticides and herbicides—is one of the leading causes of pollution in the Columbia River. When stormwater rushes across parking lots, buildings, and other urban development, it carries with it toxic metals, particularly copper and zinc, which harm salmon and other aquatic life. Stormwater pollution can also threaten public health by washing pet and animal waste into rivers and streams.

Practical Solutions to Reduce Polluted Runoff

Decreasing pollution from stormwater runoff involves landscape-level changes, such as using low impact development, as well as personal decisions, such as eliminating pesticides for lawn care. Riverkeeper is working in communities along the Columbia to educate the public about the problem of stormwater pollution and personal decisions that can make a direct, positive impact on river health. We’re starting with the basics, including:

  • Alerting the public that storm sewers discharge directly to rivers and creeks. For example, Riverkeeper organized volunteer events in Columbia River communities to stencil warning labels near storm sewers.
  • Contacting city officials when our water quality monitoring results indicate a spike in pollution after a storm event.

Enforcing Laws to Reduce Polluted Runoff

Riverkeeper enforces stormwater pollution laws. Stormwater pollution from industrial sites and city streets is a major source of heavy metals, including copper, a potent toxin for salmon. Examples of our work include:

  • Stopping Polluters. Industrial facilities like scrapyards, metal fabricators, and log yards are required to monitor and reduce polluted runoff, including heavy metals like lead and copper. When polluters ignore the law and the government turns the other cheek, Riverkeeper holds polluters accountable in court.
  • Challenging Clark County’s Stormwater Loophole Deal. We partnered with the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and Rosemere Neighborhood Association to successfully challenge Clark County’s efforts to build major loopholes into its municipal stormwater permit. Read our factsheet on the Clark County case.
  • Appealing Washington’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit. Riverkeeper joined a coalition of conservation groups challenging Washington’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit—a one-size-fits-all permit intended to reduce pollution from over 1,000 industrial sites in Washington State. Industrial sites, including log yards, metal fabricators, and scrap yards, are major sources of pollution in the Columbia River.

Development Done Right

Experts across the country agree: the cost of polluted runoff is steep. Murky, smelly streams and rivers and fish advisories warning people not to eat otherwise healthy, locally caught fish are a stark reminder of the public costs of stormwater pollution. Riverkeeper is working with municipalities to encourage zoning codes that encourage Low Impact Development (LID). LID is an approach to land development or re-development that works with nature to manage stormwater as close to the source as possible.