Pittsburgh, PA - As the changing of the seasons brings fallen leaves and snow showers, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is reminding residents to keep yard waste, de-icing salt, and other pollutants out of storm drains.
More than 25,000 storm drains are spread across Pittsburgh’s streets and parks to capture stormwater and redirect it into our sewer system. When it rains, any litter, leaves, pet waste, oil, de-icing salt, fertilizer, or other pollutants left on the ground are washed away into storm drains.
In some areas, dedicated storm sewer pipes carry the stormwater directly to our streams and rivers. In other areas, the stormwater enters combined sewer pipes and mixes with sewage on its way to the wastewater treatment plant. However, rainstorms often overwhelm the combined sewer system, which causes stormwater and untreated sewage to overflow into our streams and rivers.
When pollutants carried by stormwater enter our rivers and streams, they harm local water quality, public health, fish and wildlife, and recreation. Common types of pollutants include nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, leaves, and pet waste. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes overwhelming algae growth and reduces the amount of oxygen, which can kill fish and wildlife. Water contaminated by pet waste or human waste is unsafe for swimming or other recreational activities, since the bacteria, parasites, and viruses in this waste can cause serious health problems in humans. Chloride, a chemical used in de-icing salts, is toxic to freshwater fish, wildlife, and plants.
Federal and state law help protect and restore rivers and streams by regulating this stormwater pollution. The City of Pittsburgh and PWSA have a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This permit requires that we follow specific guidelines and implement practices to reduce pollutants from our separate storm sewer system.
To meet these water quality goals, the City and PWSA are strengthening our partnership and expanding our existing stormwater management program. We are constructing infrastructure projects that capture and filter polluted stormwater, such as the Volunteers Field Rain Garden Project, and reduce sediment, such as the Saw Mill Run Stream Restoration Project.
We are also teaching community members about local stormwater issues and how they can get involved in activities to reduce pollution, improve water quality in our rivers and streams, and help keep our communities clean. In addition to sharing stormwater tips through monthly newsletter articles and regular social media posts, PWSA has created a dedicated webpage about our work to reduce stormwater pollution with a repository of actions residents can take to help.
“The unassuming storm drains in your neighborhood are not trash cans – what goes into them can end up in our three rivers,” stated Will Pickering, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. “By taking simple actions every day to protect storm drains, we all can make a big difference for our streams and rivers.”
Help Reduce Stormwater Pollution
- Do not rake or blow leaves or grass clippings into the street. Do not pile leaves or other yard waste near storm drains.
- Do not over-apply de-icing salt or pesticides.
- Only fertilize if necessary and do not overapply. Select slow-release and organic fertilizers, which are less likely to wash away. Fertilize lawns in the fall to promote root growth and prevent nutrients from washing away during spring rains.
- When walking your pet, always bring a bag to scoop up waste. Make sure to clean up after your pet in your own yard, especially before it rains. Dispose of bagged pet waste in a trash can.
- Take your car to a commercial car wash, which are required to treat the dirty wash water and dispose of it properly. If you can’t take your car to a commercial car wash, make sure to only wash your car on grass or gravel, which helps soak up and filter the wash water before it gets to storm drains.
- Do not dump yard waste, litter, or other waste into storm drains.
- Where safe to do so, clear leaves, litter, and other debris off of storm drain grates and dispose of them properly in the trash. However, never reach inside a storm drain or lift the grate.
- If you see a clogged or broken storm drain, please call our 24/7 Dispatch at 412-255-2423 (Press 1), contact us @pgh2o on Twitter, or fill out our Report an Issue webform so that we can send a crew out.