What is Stormwater Runoff?

Stormwater runoff is rainfall that flows over the ground surface.  It is created when rain falls on roads, driveways, parking lots, rooftops and other paved surfaces that do not allow water to soak into the ground.  Stormwater runoff is the number one cause of stream impairment.  When rain falls on paved surfaces, a much greater amount of runoff is generated compared to runoff from the same storm falling over a forested area.  These large volumes of water are swiftly carried to our local streams, lakes, wetlands and rivers.

Stormwater runoff picks up and carries with it many different pollutants that are found on paved surfaces such as sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria, oil, grease, trash, pesticides and metals.  These pollutants come from a variety of sources, including pet waste, lawn fertilization, cards, construction sites, illegal dumping and spills, and pesticide application.  Research confirms that as the amount of paved surfaces (impervious cover) increases in the watershed, stream healthy declines accordingly.

Stormwater is often managed through Best Management Practices.

stormwater runoff.png

There are things we can all do to reduce the amount of pollution that goes into our stormwater.  Read the items below to see how you can improve water quality locally. 


Lawn and Garden Maintenance

• Use fertilizers and pesticides sparingly, especially near waterbodies
• Select native plants and grasses that are drought tolerant and pest resistant.
• Compost or recycle yard waste.
• Cover piles of dirt and mulch to prevent them from washing into drains.
• Sweep up yard debris, rather than hosing down areas.
• Plant grass or vegetation where soil is exposed. Cigarette Butts and other Trash
• Put your cigarette butts and other litter in garbage bins!
• If there is no garbage bin handy, hold onto your litter until you find one.
• Pitch in and help clean up littered areas.
• Sweep up and properly dispose of construction debris like concrete and mortar.

Keep Yard Waste out of the lake and storm sewers

Grass clippings and fallen tree leaves are filled with phosphorous.  If they wash into the lake along with fertilizer from lawns, when temperatures climb during the summer months, conditions are prime for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algae blooms, such as the one below.  Blue-green algal blooms are often described as looking like pea soup and contain toxins that make both humans and animals sick.

Big Det Aug 2.jpg

Fall Yard Tips

  • If leaves are less than 2 inches thick, mulch them by making several passes with a lawn mower. The shredded leaves will provide nutrients for your lawn. Another option is to compost leaves and grass clippings.
  • Rake or sweep tree leaves and grass clippings from streets, driveways, and sidewalks.
  • Never dispose leaves or grass clippings in wetlands, lakes, rivers, or streams.
  • Keep street clean of other materials containing phosphorus, like grass clippings and eroded soil.
  • If fertilizing is necessary, use a phosphorus free fertilizer. Minnesota’s Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Law requires phosphorus free fertilizer on established lawns unless a soil test shows the need for phosphorus.Leave your grass clippings where they lie.
  • Mow regularly, clippings decompose quickly and release nutrients to the lawn.
  • One season of grass clippings = One fertilizer application


Household Hazardous Wastes - See Becker County Household Hazardous Waste

  Open Wednesday 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM April - October     (218) 847-9664

  They will accept:  paint, stains, varnishes, solvents, garden pesticides, flammable products, poisons, adhesives, aerosol cans, lawn care products, cleaners automotive chemicals.

  Medication Disposal -  Never, ever, dispose of medications down the drain or flush down the toilet.  We do not want them to contaminate our water.   Drop off box is located in Becker County Sheriff's Office at 925 Lake Ave., Detroit Lakes, MN .  The box is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  No questions asked and free of charge to residents.  NO syringes, needles or "sharps" accepted.

• Use the appropriate amount of hazardous substances (paints, solvents, cleaners) for the job.
• Store substances properly, away from drainage areas.
• Clean water based painting supplies over soil.
• Filter and reuse paint thinner.
• Clean up spills immediately.
• Dispose of solvent waste by following the instructions printed on the label.

Swimming Pool and Spa Care

• Drain your pool only when the test kit does not detect chlorine levels.
• Whenever possible, drain your pool or spa into the sanitary sewer system.
• Properly store pool and spa chemicals to prevent leaks and spills, preferably in a covered area.

Pet Waste Management

• When walking your pet, pick up waste and dispose of it properly.
• Flushing pet waste is the best disposal method.
• Do not dispose of pet waste near storm drains or waterbodies.

Septic System Maintenance

• Have your system inspected by a professional every three to five years.
• Pump your tank as necessary (every three to five years).
• Care for the septic leach field by not driving or parking vehicles on it.
• Plant only grass over and near the leach field to avoid damage from roots.
• Don’t dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.

Vehicle Maintenance and Repair

• Use a commercial car wash or wash your car on a lawn or other unpaved surface to minimize the amount of dirty, soapy water flowing into the storm drain, culvert or ditch.
• Check your car, boat, motorcycle, machinery and equipment for leaks and spills.
• Clean up spilled fluids with an absorbent material like kitty litter or sand.
• Recycle used oil and other automotive fluids at participating service stations.

For more information you can go to the following links:

Stormwater - Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

"After the Storm" - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Oceanside Clean Water Program (CWP)

What is Runoff? Minnehaha Creek Watershed District

For a fun activity to do with a small group or classroom click here - Demo

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