Though you may not realize it, motor vehicles are one of the leading contributors to stormwater pollution of rivers, lakes, and in our case, Puget Sound. Motor vehicle exhaust, leaks, and heavy metal residuals are captured by rain showers, resulting in stormwater that has as a major component hazardous substances. These substances flow untreated into our watershed, causing water quality degradation and negatively impacting human and marine health and well-being.
The consequences of rapid urbanization, including our extensive roadway and parking lot infrastructure, removal of trees, vegetation, and wetlands, and sprawling residential developments, intensify stormwater pollution. Impervious surfaces do not provide natural filtration of stormwater, and instead deliver pollutants quickly and directly to our streams, rivers, and sound.
The end result for us—a Puget Sound that is polluted and marine life that is potentially irreparably harmed—is difficult to believe from the scenic surface. While we respond with outrage to large chemical and oil spills, we find it much more difficult to fully comprehend the collective impact of our individual automobile use. To put it in perspective, Jay Manning, former Director of the WA State Department of Ecology, states, “Based on actual sampling in the Puget Sound Basin, we’ve estimated that the volume of oil that is carried into Puget Sound [every two years] by stormwater runoff is equal to the oil spill in Prince William Sound of the Exxon Valdez.”* For the most part, this oil comes directly from our automobiles.
What can you do to lessen your impact on stormwater?
- Regularly service your car to ensure that leaks are fixed. When personally conducting maintenance on your vehicle, properly dispose of fluids for free at your City’s landfill or hazardous waste facility. NEVER dump automobile fluids into stormwater drains.
- Regularly wash your car at a carwash that captures and treats run-off. Washing at home on a concrete driveway delivers heavy metal residuals directly to stormwater drains. Regular washing prevents build-up of harmful substances on your car’s body, which then wash into stormwater during rain events.
- Kick your car to the curb, or use your car less.
- Support low impact development (LID) practices and policies that discourage sprawl, impervious surfaces, and vegetation removal.
Stormwater quality is vital to the health of our local watershed. The choices we make as individuals, particularly in respect to automobile use, have a significant collective impact on our watershed, and subsequently our region’s quality of life.
Source: *Poisoned Waters, a PBS Frontline Special