Something Big: Stormwater Runoff

 Today we are talking about stormwater runoff and pollution because the cities around Mobile Bay suffer from litter and water pollution problems in a big way. Stormwater pollution is such a large issue because it is what we call “non-point source pollution.” This means that pollution comes from numerous discrete sources, making it difficult to quantify and difficult to eliminate. In addition to explaining what stormwater runoff is and what causes it, we will also share ways that you can make a difference stormwater-wise.

What is stormwater runoff? 

Stormwater runoff occurs when rain from storms flows over the ground. Impervious (non-absorbant) surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground. Litter and contaminants that have been left on the ground are swept along with rainwater into our storm drains. Stormdrains direct rainwater to the nearest waterway; this water does not go to a treatment plants or pump station. Eventually, the pollution finds its way into our many waterways, Mobile Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Simply put, stormwater runoff is important because it impacts our waterways and environments in many ways. Everything that lives in the water, feeds from the water, or drinks the water can be impacted by stormwater pollution. This adversely impacts our health, the environment, and our economy.

Problematic Pollutants 

–  Litter on roads and in parking lots and parks 

–  Cigarette butts

–  Untreated wastewater from failed septic systems

–  Oil and antifreeze from leaking cars

–  Garden and lawn chemicals

–  Household cleaners and chemicals that are disposed of improperly

–  Construction site runoff

–  Pet and livestock waste

–  Mardi Gras parade debris

Who causes stormwater pollution? 

We all do. Stormwater pollution is the result of industrial activity, our personal everyday actions, and our local land use policies. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to make a difference regarding our stormwater quality.

Some Things You Can Do

1. Pick up pet waste and deposit it in garbage cans, flush it down the toilet, or bury it in your yard. 

2. Wash your car in the yard instead of the driveway, or go to a carwash that properly handles its wastewater.

3. Divert down spouts to grassy areas instead of driveways and sidewalks. May we also suggest a rain garden?

4. Use natural fertilizers on your lawn and garden only when necessary and always apply according to package instructions.

5. Don’t put anything down a storm drain – Remember, storm drains lead directly to our Bay!

6. Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down.

7. Use native plants in your garden – they require less watering and maintenance. 

8. Help pick up litter and dispose of it properly. 

9. Harvest rainwater for watering your plants through the use of a rain barrel. 

10. Participate in clean-ups or stormwater education programs.

Great American Clean-Up

This week is the Great American Clean-Up, an effort of the part of Keep America Beautiful and countless other organizations to keep our communities and our environment clean and healthy. In Mobile, AL, you can participate in a clean-up event TOMORROW (Saturday, April 28th) from 8am-noon at the Springdale Mall on Airport Blvd.  Join the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Partners for Environmental Progress, Keep Mobile Beautiful, Mobile Baykeeper, and others this Saturday to clean up the Dog River watershed. Meet at Burlington Coat Factory at the Springdale Mall. Register as a team or as individuals through HandsOn South Alabama or by calling Keep Mobile Beautiful at (251) 208-6029.


Weekend Project: Install a Rainwater Collection System


This weekend’s project is installing a rainwater collection system. Maybe you have seen rain barrels in a neighbor’s yard, maybe you grew up with one. They come in a variety of shapes and styles, but the basic set-up is the same: the system is designed to catch rainwater that runs off your roof and store it for later use. Rain barrels are easy to set up, easy to use, and have a variety of benefits ecologically, economically, hydrologically, and horticulturally.


(1) Store Water. Rain barrels have been used for centuries to store up rainwater for times of water scarcity. They are especially helpful if you live in a region that is prone to drought or sporadic rainfall.

(2) Purest Water. Municipal (hard) water has chemicals added to it, like chlorine and fluorine, and other minerals. Rainwater does not contain as many contaminants and so is healthier for your soil and plants.

(3) Stormwater. Stormwater runoff  is rainwater that runs off of impervious (hard, non-absorptive) surfaces instead of filtering back into the ground. Impervious surfaces include parking lots, roads, driveways, and roofs. Instead of funneling water off your roof and out into the storm drains, you can divert water from your gutters into a rain barrel and use it to water your gardens, giving the water the chance to nourish plants and filter naturally into the earth.

(4) Free water. It seems obvious enough: rain water is free. What sort of savings can you expect from installing a rainwater collection system though?

  • estimates that an average-sized home uses 82,280 gal of water annually. To determine how much of this water you use in your yard, consult this guide.
  • How much does a rain barrel cost? Rain barrels/collection systems can range from $70-300. You can buy specific shapes and sizes to suit your needs and the design of your home and yard, you can find a service to install it for you, or you can make and install it yourself.
  • How much water can you collect with a rain barrel? For a house with a roof area of 40’x50x (2000 sq. ft.) the estimate is that you could collect around 1,200 gal annually. Consult this guide to calculate the water-collection capacity of your roof.
  • That’s 1,200 gallons less water that you need to pay for.

DIY Event

If you live in the coastal communities of Alabama, you can make your own rain barrel next Wednesday, April 11th! The cost if $40 to participate, and you will take home a ready-to-use rain collection barrel. Check out the flyer for more information, and if you’re interested, be sure to register by Monday, April 9th. Two Baykeepers will be attending to make our own rain barrels; we hope to see you there!

Check with university extensions, local non-profits, and home and garden stores in your area to see if they are hosting rain barrel workshops!

Let’s Make A Difference

As always, send us a picture of your rain barrel, or comment below, and we will enter you in our weekly drawing! Everyone is eligible because everyone makes a difference! The first drawing will be done on Monday, April 9th, we will contact you that morning if you win.

Helpful resources

A Guide to anything you could want to know about rain barrel/catchment systems:

A good overview from the University of Minnesota Extension:

A DIY guide to making a rainwater collection system: