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Stormwater Runoff

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Stormwater runoff is precipitation from rain or melting snow that “runs off” across the land instead of seeping into the ground. This runoff usually flows into the nearest stream, creek, river, lake or ocean. Collectively, the draining water is called stormwater runoff and is not treated in any way.
  • Water from rain and melting snow either seeps into the ground or “runs off” to lower areas, making its way into streams, lakes and other water bodies. Stormwater runoff becomes a problem when it picks up and carry’s debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants as it flows or when it causes flooding and erosion of stream banks.

    Some - like pesticides, fertilizers, oil and soap – are harmful in any quantity. Others – like sediment from construction, bare soil, or agricultural land, or pet waste, grass clippings and leaves – can harm creeks, rivers and lakes in sufficient quantities.

    In addition to rain and snowmelt, various human activities like watering, car washing, and malfunctioning septic tank can also put water onto the land surface. Here, it can also create runoff that carries pollutants to creeks, rivers and lakes.

    Polluted runoff generally happens anywhere people use or alter the land. For example, in developed areas, none of the water that falls on hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, parking lots or roads can seep into the ground. These impervious surfaces create large amounts of runoff that picks up pollutants. The runoff flows from gutters and storm drains to streams. Runoff not only pollutes' but erodes stream banks. The mix of pollution and eroded dirt muddies the water and causes problems downstream.
  • Polluted stormwater runoff generally happens anywhere people use or alter the land. People going about their daily lives are the number one source of stormwater pollutants. Most people are unaware of how they impact water quality. Some common examples include over fertilizing lawns, excessive pesticide use, not picking up pet waste, using salt or fertilizer to de-ice driveways, letting oil drip out of their vehicles and littering. Developed areas in general, with their increased runoff, concentrated numbers of people and animals, construction and other activities, are a major contributor to Non-point source pollution, as are agricultural activities. Other contributors include forest harvesting activities, roadways, and malfunctioning septic systems.
  • Polluted stormwater runoff is the number one cause of water pollution in Texas. In most cases in Texas today, stormwater either does not receive any treatment before it enters our waterways or is inadequately treated.

    Polluted water creates numerous costs to the public and to wildlife. As the saying goes, “we all live downstream.” Communities, such as Abilene, that use surface water for their drinking supply must pay much more to clean up polluted water than clean water.

    Polluted water hurts the wildlife in creeks, streams, rivers and lakes. Dirt from erosion, also called sediment, covers up fish habitats while fertilizers can cause too much algae to grow, which also hurts wildlife by using up the oxygen they need to survive. Soaps hurt fish gills and fish skin, and other chemicals damage plants and animals when they enter the water.

    The quantity of stormwater is also a problem. When stormwater falls on hard surfaces like roads, roofs, driveways and parking lots, it cannot seep into the ground, so it runs off to lower areas. To give you an idea of the difference a hard surface makes, consider the difference between one inch of rain falling onto a meadow and a parking lot. The parking lot sheds 16 times the amount of water that a meadow does!

    Because more water runs off hard surfaces, developed areas can experience local flooding. The high volume of water also causes streams banks to erode and washes the wildlife that lives there downstream.
  • The City of Abilene is preventing stormwater pollution through a stormwater management program. This program addresses stormwater pollution from construction, new development, illegal dumping into storm sewer systems and drainage ways, and pollution prevention and good housekeeping practices in municipal operations. It will also continue to educate the community and get everyone involved in making sure that only thing that stormwater contributes to our water resources is ... WATER.
  • “Best management practices” is a term used to describe different ways to keep pollutants out of runoff and to slow down high volumes of runoff.

    Preventing pollution from entering water is much more affordable than cleaning polluted water! Educating City residents about how to prevent pollution from entering waterways is one best management practice. Laws that require people and businesses involved in earth disturbing activities --like construction and agriculture -- to take steps to prevent erosion are another way to prevent stormwater pollution. There are also laws about litter, cleaning up after pets and dumping oil or other substances into storm drains.

    Education and laws are just two best management practice examples. Some BMPs are constructed to protect a certain area. Some are designed to slow down stormwater, others help reduce the pollutants already in it – there are also BMPs that do both of these things.

    Detention ponds, built to temporarily hold water so it seeps away slowly, fill up quickly after a rainstorm and allow solids like sediment and litter to settle at the pond bottom. Then, they release the water slowly. These ponds are one constructed BMP example. Green roofs, storm drain grates, filter strips, sediment fences and permeable paving are other examples.
  • Streams and creeks feed into rivers, lakes and eventually the ocean. We all drink water, so we are all affected when our water is polluted. When water treatment costs rise, the price of drinking water goes up. If you like to fish, swim or boat, you may have heard or been affected by advisories warning you not to swim, fish or boat in a certain area because of unhealthy water or too much algae. Shellfish like clams, oysters, and shrimp cannot be harvested from polluted waters, so anyone that enjoys these foods or makes a living from the shellfish industry is affected. Money made from tourism and water recreation can also be impacted, as are businesses and home flooded by stormwater runoff. When we pollute our water, everyone is affected!
  • The Federal Clean Water Act requires large and medium sized towns (Abilene meets the large criteria) across the United States to take steps to reduce polluted stormwater runoff. The law was applied in two phases. The first phase addressed large cities. The second phase, often referred to as ”Phase II,” requires medium and small cities, fast growing cities and those located near sensitive waters to take steps to reduce stormwater.

    These laws require chosen cities to create a Stormwater Management Plan to meet the requirements in the City’s permit.
  • Polluted stormwater runoff is a leading cause of impairment to the nearly 40 percent of surveyed U.S. water bodies which do not meet water quality standards. Over land or via storm sewer systems, polluted runoff is discharged, often untreated, directly into local water bodies. When left uncontrolled, this water pollution can result in the destruction of fish, wildlife, and aquatic life habitats; a loss in aesthetic value; and threats to public health due to contaminated food, drinking water supplies, and recreational waterways.
  • The regulatory definition of an MS4 (40 CFR 122.26(b)(8)) is "a conveyance or system of conveyances (including roads with drainage systems, municipal streets, catch basins, curbs, gutters, ditches, man-made channels, or storm drains): (i) Owned or operated by a state, city, town, borough, county, parish, district, association, or other public body (created to or pursuant to state law) including special districts under state law such as a sewer district, flood control district or drainage district, or similar entity, or an Indian tribe or an authorized Indian tribal organization, or a designated and approved management agency under section 208 of the Clean Water Act that discharges into waters of the United States. (ii) Designed or used for collecting or conveying stormwater; (iii) Which is not a combined sewer; and (iv) Which is not part of a Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) as defined at 40 CFR 122.2."

    In practical terms, operators of MS4s can include municipalities and local sewer districts, state and federal departments of transportation, public universities, public hospitals, military bases, and correctional facilities. The Stormwater Phase II Rule added federal systems, such as military bases and correctional facilities by including them in the definition of small MS4s.

Stormwater Utility Fee

Frequently Asked Questions

  • The federal Clean Water Act mandates that cities must comply with stormwater regulations; however, funds are not provided to these subject municipalities for the required stormwater management. Therefore, stormwater fees are one method municipalities can choose to raise funds to oversee these mandated requirements. Cities can levy fees based on a variety of standards, but one of the most common methods is to base them on the amount of impervious surfaces (surfaces like concrete and roofs, where water can’t seep into the ground) on a property. In these cases, property owners with more impervious surfaces pay more than those with less impervious surfaces.
  • When our water is polluted, we all pay in one way or another. Damage from urban flooding can raise merchant prices and insurance rates. Sediment and pollution laden water takes more money to treat before it can be used for drinking water. Tourism and recreation businesses suffer along with residents when swimming, fishing and boating are curtailed. Shellfish become more expensive and harder to harvest when shellfish beds close. And the list goes on. Because everyone plays a role in creating the pollution in stormwater runoff, we all have a role in cleaning it up.
  • In August 2003, the Abilene City Council approved the creation of the Stormwater Services Division and passed a stormwater fee to fund the new division. The fee is based on how much runoff surface (Hard Surface Area) exists on a piece of property, not the actual or theoretical stormwater runoff.

    Please see the Stormwater Services Fee Rates for more information.
  • There is no way to measure stormwater from each property; therefore, Hard Surface Area (or impervious cover) is a good "indicator" of the amount your property will generate. Most cities in Texas that have a stormwater fee are using Hard Surface Area as the basis for the fee.

    Please see the Stormwater Service Fee Rates for more information
  • To fund the Stormwater Services Division, this includes:
    • Maintenance on creeks, drainage channels, storm drains, detention ponds and any other drainage way within the city limits of Abilene,
    • funding of drainage projects,
    • watershed planning, and
    • compliance with state and federal regulations for stormwater management that assists in protecting the quality of stormwater runoff.

Drainage Maintenance

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Federal regulations prohibit the widening or deepening of a creek that is identified as a “water of the United States”, which all the creeks in Abilene are labeled. However, removal of sediment that has accumulated within the creeks may be removed as long as the original grade of the creek bed is maintained. Additionally, federal regulations prohibit the use of steel tracked vehicles and bladed vehicles (such as motor graders and bulldozers) within the boundaries of the creek. Therefore the City of Abilene is limited to the changes that can be made to the creeks.
  • Best Management Practices are the techniques (buffers, silt fences, detention ponds, swales, etc.), schedule of activities, prohibitions of practices and maintenance procedures to prevent or reduce the discharge of pollutants.
  • A detention pond is an engineered drainage structure designed to temporarily hold a set amount of water while slowly draining to another location. They a best management practice installed for flood control when large amounts of rain could cause flash flooding if not dealt with properly. Additionally, detention ponds act as a trap where pollutants picked up by the initial surge of storm water settle out before leaving the detention pond.

    When an area is paved, or covered with a building, water runs off the property much faster than when it is in a natural state. The total amount of discharge is the same, but the discharge happens over a shorter amount of time. A hydrologist will design a detention pond to temporarily detain the water and keep the runoff to the desired rate. When the rain ends, though, the detention pond will be empty shortly afterwards.
  • No. They are two completely separate drainage systems. Effluent in the sewer system receives extensive and thorough filtration prior to being discharged. The storm drain system on the other hand, receives no filtration whatsoever, and discharges directly into the local creeks and empties into Lake Fort Phantom Hill untreated.
  • There are miles of channels, creeks, and storm drains within the City of Abilene to maintain. Stormwater’s maintenance crews clean out detention ponds, storm drains, channels, and drainage ways throughout the year as they are reported. Unfortunately there are just too many drainage structures and not enough resources or crews to keep them all in proper functioning order at all times. The Stormwater maintenance crew performs maintenance operations on a day-to-day basis; however, it simply can not keep up with daily illegal dumping of debris into these open channels. Therefore, we rely heavily on the citizens of Abilene to assist in keeping us informed of clogged drainage ways, illegal dumping, and illegal discharges.
  • It sounds like a good idea. But during a rainstorm, trash is quickly swept to detention ponds and storm drains and any screen or filtration device placed in front of these structures would cause trash to accumulate and clog the grate, preventing proper drainage and end up flooding the street. With hundreds of miles of pipes and channels in the system alone, there would be far too many blocked detention ponds and storm drains to have crews cleaning them as the rain falls.
  • The City of Abilene manages the flood channels and, in fact, some do have a barrier or screen near the discharge point. Unfortunately, this only catches the trash that floats in the channels or detention ponds, leaving most of the toxins like pet waste, used oil, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. flow straight through into the local creeks.
  • Such a facility would be extremely costly to build and maintain. And, the massive amount of water coming through the facility during a rainstorm would easily overtax the system.
  • Paint thinner and paint products, motor oil, pesticides, Styrofoam cups, paper, human and animal wastes, antifreeze, golf balls, dirty diapers, and dead animals are but a few of the pollutants found in the system on a daily basis.
  • On a typical dry summer day, many gallons flow through the system. This flow comes from over watered lawns, fire hydrant pressure releases, and car washes throughout the city, just to name a few. In a heavy rainstorm, this flow can increase by many, many gallons.

What Can I Do to Reduce Stormwater Pollution

Frequently Asked Questions

  • This is another term for polluted runoff and other sources of water pollution that are hard to pinpoint. The term “nonpoint source pollution” (NPS) comes from the federal Clean Water Act of 1987. There, it is used as a catch-all for all kinds of water pollution that are not well-defined discharges (point sources) from wastewater plants or industries.

    NPS pollution, unlike pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, comes from many different sources. NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and even underground water sources.
  • States report that nonpoint source pollution is the leading remaining cause of water quality problems. The effects of nonpoint source pollutants on specific waters vary and may not always be fully assessed. However, we know that these pollutants have harmful effects on drinking water supplies, recreation, fisheries, and wildlife.
  • We all play a part. NPS pollution results from a wide variety of human activities on the land. Each of us can contribute to the problem without even realizing it.
  • We can all work together to reduce and prevent nonpoint source pollution. Some activities are federal responsibilities, such as ensuring that federal lands are properly managed to reduce soil erosion. Some are state responsibilities, for example, developing legislation to govern mining and logging, and to protect groundwater. Others are best handled locally, such as by zoning or erosion control ordinances. And each individual can play an important role by practicing conservation and by changing certain everyday habits.
  • If you own a car, maintain it so it does not leak oil or other fluids. Be sure to wash it on the grass or at a car wash so the dirt and soap do not flow down the driveway and into the nearest storm drain.

    If you own a yard, do not over fertilize your grass. Never apply fertilizers or pesticides before a heavy rain. If fertilizer falls onto driveways or sidewalks, sweep it up instead of hosing it away. Mulch leaves and grass clippings and place leaves in the yard at the curb, not in the street. Doing this keeps leaves out of the gutter, where they can wash into the nearest storm drain. Turn your gutter downspouts away from hard surfaces, seed bare spots in your yard to avoid erosion and consider building a rain garden in low-lying areas of your lawn, and practice Xeriscape when applicable.

    If you have a septic system, maintain it properly by having it pumped every three to five years. If it is an older system, be sure it can still handle the volume placed on it today. Never put chemicals down septic systems, they can harm the system and seep into the groundwater.

    Pet owners should pick up after their pets and dispose of pet waste in the garbage.

    Keep lawn and household chemicals tightly sealed and in a place where rain cannot reach them. Dispose of old or unwanted chemicals at household hazardous waste collections sites or events.
    Never put anything in a storm drain.

    Don’t litter.
  • Participate in the next community or creek cleanup in your area. Storm drain stenciling events – where the destination of storm water is clearly marked on the drain – are a fun way to let your neighbors know the storm drain is only for rain. Attend public hearings or meetings on the topic so you can express your concerns. Quickly report stormwater violations to the City of Abilene when you spot them. Keep learning about polluted stormwater runoff and tell a friend!
  • If you notice a foreign substance flowing into a storm drain inlet (especially motor oil or anti-freeze) or see someone pouring something into a storm sewer, please call the Stormwater Services Division at (325) 676-6280 to report the location.
  • Dumping used oil is illegal. One gallon of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. Contact the City of Abilene Stormwater Services Division at (325) 676-6280 to report incidents of illegal dumping.

    To properly dispose of your used, but uncontaminated (not mixed with other fluids) motor oil, dispose of it through your recycling program with the City of Abilene. For more information on the recycling and waste collection in Abilene, call 325-8672-2209 or visit their website here. Check with local automotive shops to see if they accept automotive fluids.
  • Storm drains are for the sole purpose of rainwater overflow. Dumping trash, pollutants and debris in the catch basins is illegal and is a federal violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972 as well as the City of Abilene Municipal Code. If it's a neighbor, they may not understand the catch basin's direct connection to local creeks. If you have an amicable relationship with him/her, it may be just a matter of informing and making them aware of its environmental impact.

    If it is someone who you feel is knowingly violating and repeatedly dumping into storm drains, please contact the City of Abilene to report incidents of illegal dumping.
  • The City of Abilene Environmental Recycling Center accepts all types of waste. We encourage you to review the Environmental Recycling Center website for more information.
  • There are varieties of educational programs on how to prevent stormwater pollution. The City of Abilene Stormwater Services Division offers many type’s educational brochures that can be found on the City of Abilene's Stormwater Services Division website and are also available at City Hall in the first floor foyer located at 555 Walnut.
  • You can contact the Stormwater Services Division for more information.
  • It is illegal to knowingly dump or discharge hazardous materials or pollutants into drainage channels; the City of Abilene can impose stiff fines on the perpetrators. Illegal dumping of trash, paint products, motor oil, hazardous contaminants, and other pollutants into storm drains is against the law!
  • The best place to wash your car is to use a full or self service car wash. They are designed to recycle used water and filter out many of the harmful chemicals and pollutants washed away from your vehicle.

    Although we highly recommend going to a full or self service car wash, an alternative is to park your vehicle on the lawn or gravel. Use biodegradable soaps to wash your vehicle, using as little water as possible. Shut off water while washing your car, then rinse. Remember not to leave your car on the lawn.
  • Grass, leaves, and yard clippings that are repeatedly swept into drainage structures can clog drains, which may result in flooding and can become a breeding ground for rodents and insects. Additionally, grass and leaves decompose and may contribute to new plant growth (blooms), which can deprive aquatic life of their oxygen.