Stormwater pollution prevention tips

  • Published
  • By David Pettus
  • 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron
The following information and tips are provided to help McConnell AFB and local area residents follow safe practices concerning stormwater. Contamination to area streams, ponds, creeks and lakes can come from many sources, including daily habits around the house.

1. If your car needs a bath, we recommend taking it to the car wash facility adjacent to the auto hobby shop on base. This facility is designed to keep most of the soapy water inside the building and away from the creek, where it might impact fish or birds.

2. Make sure all of your vehicles have routine maintenance checks. Regular maintenance can lead to detection and prevention of automotive fluid leaks. If you do find a leak, get your vehicle fixed as soon as possible. Vehicle fluids - oils, greases, anti-freeze, etc - can be some of the most difficult and expensive pollutants to remove from water.

3. Consider keeping cat litter or sand in your garage for oil spills or leaks. In the event of a spill, use an absorbent as opposed to washing the oil to the curb or collecting it to dump down the toilet. After sprinkling the absorbent on the spill, scoop it up and put it in the garbage.

4. Car batteries are an often forgotten source of vehicle fluids and contain hazardous acids and metals that can contaminate local lakes and rivers. Many auto-part stores offer a refund when a new battery is purchased and a used battery is turned in.

5. If you like to change your own motor oil, we recommend that you rent a spot at the base auto hobby shop. Rental charges are $6 for a stall and $7 for a stall with a lift for the first hour, and $4 and $5 per hour thereafter. If oil is changed at the hobby shop, they will dispose of the used motor oil. If changes at home, the hobby shop cannot take used oil. There are numerous service stations, repair garages and auto-parts stores in the Wichita, Kan., area that will take it at no charge. Never flush motor oil or other vehicle fluids down the toilet or dump it in a street drain.

6. When beautifying your lawn or garden, native plants are environmentally the best choice. Native plants are well suited to the environment and require less fertilizer, fewer pesticides and less watering, which means fewer chemicals in lakes and streams. Local nurseries can provide a list of native plants or visit

7. Mulching your lawn and garden protects the moisture content in the soil. Higher moisture content means less irrigation, less fertilizer in the runoff to our lakes and streams, and a smaller water bill. Consider using a mulching mower as one means to mulch.

8. When using fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, follow these tips to prevent contamination of storm water runoff:
· Always read product labels and follow instructions carefully.
· Apply only what is recommended by the manufacturer. Anything extra will end up in the local water system.
· Never apply chemicals before heavy rainfall is expected.

9. The best time to water your lawn is early morning hours from 5 to 8 a.m. If done during the hotter hours of the day, more water is lost to evaporation, resulting in higher water bills and a bigger strain on local watersheds. Watering at night increases the chance of grass diseases.

10. One way to conserve water and protect local watersheds is through the use of rain barrels. Attached to the end of a rain gutter downspout, these barrels collect water run-off for later use. Barrels are available commercially and it's recommended to ensure it is mosquito-proofed.

11. Unless your lawn was recently planted, it probably doesn't need a lot of water to survive the summer. During irrigation, if a lot of water is running into your roadside ditch or gutter, you are probably overwatering and can cut back.

12. Do you have an area in your yard that doesn't drain well after it rains? Consider a rain garden. These areas are specially designed with native plants that provide natural places for rainwater to collect and soak into the ground and they can be a beautiful addition to your landscaping. For more information about rain gardens, call (316)759-4446.

13. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average family of four uses 280 gallons of water each day indoors. Toilets account for nearly 75 gallons of that total. Older toilets use 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush, but in 1994 federal law mandated that new toilets only use up to 1.6 gallons per flush. Many of the first toilets designed to meet this law were environmental disasters because they required more than one flush to work. With improvements in technology, the 1.6 gallon limit is now easily and practically obtainable. Included in this new technology are "dual-flush" toilets which use 0.8 gallons for liquid wastes and 1.6 gallons for solid waste. Dual flush toilets are now available many hardware stores.

14. Minor leaks from household plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems account for more than one trillion gallons of water wasted each year in U.S. homes -- enough to supply Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami with their water needs for a year. Fixing leaks can equal a huge benefit to our environment.

15. If you have an outdoor dog or cat, be sure to regularly clean up pet waste from your yard. For those who live in base housing, the base housing brochure, MAFBP 32-6001, requires that pet waste be cleaned weekly. Pet waste is a significant source of dangerous fecal coliform bacteria in our lakes and rivers and can be a source of diseases such as salmonella or toxoplasmosis. Pet waste is not a fertilizer and should not be left on the ground.

16. When taking your pet for a walk, the base housing brochure requires you take a scooper or bag to clean up your pet's feces from other yards, walkways or common areas. Cleaning up after your animal will prevent spread of disease and keep the local waters clean. Pet waste can be safely disposed of by garbage or flushing down the toilet. Do not flush cat litter down the toilet without reading the manufacturers label.

17. Want to have a car wash fundraiser on base property but not sure of regulations? Car washes are legal on base property and are not specifically regulated by the state of Kansas but we do request the following rules be followed:
 - Wash vehicles at least one hundred yards away from the base creek.
 - Stay away from the storm drains and cover any drains that are close to the car wash. Tape covering to the ground or pavement to keep as much soap as possible from getting into the drain.
 - Use a gentle, low-suds type of soap. For suggestions on soaps, contact asset management at (316)759-4446.

18. If you have expired prescription or over-the-counter medications you wish to throw away, do not flush them down the toilet. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove these chemicals from the water. Prescription medications should be taken to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility at 801 Stilwell, Wichita, Kan. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday. For more information, call (316) 660-7464. Non-prescription medications can be disposed of in the trash, but should be kept in their original container and taped shut to prevent children or animals from ingesting them.

19. Do not flush household chemicals like paints, including water-based paints, pesticides, or vehicle fluids such as oil and anti-freeze down the toilet. The cities of Wichita and Derby spend taxpayer money to treat sewage to remove these wastes before they get into the Arkansas River. Other items, such as diapers, paper towels, and many types of cat litter can clog your own sewer system and force costly repairs.

20. Most communities of moderate size or larger will have a household waste disposal program for hazardous substances like paints and cleaners. To dispose these substances in Wichita, take them to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility.

21. Use hazardous substances like paints, solvents and cleaners in the smallest amounts possible, and follow directions on the label. Clean up spills immediately and dispose of wastes safely. Store substances properly to avoid leaks and spills and if there is a spill, do not flush the spill with water into the storm drain.

22. When possible, use non-toxic, biodegradable, recycled and recyclable products. Anything that we can do to reduce the size of our hazardous and non-hazardous landfills will also help improve the quality of our lakes and streams in those areas.

23. Before beginning any outdoor project, locate the nearest storm drains and protect from debris and other materials.

24. Once an outdoor project is completed, sweep up and dispose of construction debris such as concrete and mortar. Be sure to check the storm drain to ensure that trash from the project did not get into it.

25. During winter months, use sidewalk salts sparingly. Salt contamination is a major hazard to fish in this area in the winter months.

26. For those of you that live in more rural areas and have a septic system, have your system inspected by a professional at least every three years. Septic tanks should be pumped out every three to five years.

27. If you must replace your driveway or put down pavement for a sidewalk, consider using innovative types of pavement that are permeable. These new systems allow rain and snow melt to permeate into the ground below the pavement, thereby reducing the amount of water and impurities going into the storm drain.

28. Pool chemicals can be as dangerous as other hazardous substances if it reaches lakes or rivers. Always be sure that pool and spa chemicals are properly stored and do not leak.

29. Keep in mind chlorinated water will kill fish. Only drain a pool when a test kit does not detect chlorine levels. This can take approximately five days without additional chlorine.

30. Whenever possible, drain your pool or spa into the sewer system rather than to the ground.