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Runoff Promotes Pollution in Our Watersheds

Picture of a typical watershed flowing into Lake Erie.
A typical Lake Erie Watershed. Source: Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Have you ever wondered why there is so much trash on the beaches and in our water? You may have participated in a beach clean-up or learned about the water cycle in school, but did you ever think about how the two are related?

A watershed is the area of land that drains into a body of water. When it rains, or when ice and snow melt, water travels through the watershed into the nearby streams and rivers to a larger body of water such as a lake or ocean. For those of us in Northeast Ohio, our water travels watersheds all the way to Lake Erie! So what does this have to do with trash on our beaches and in the water?

When buildings and pavement cover the land instead of the trees and plants that were naturally there, water is not soaked up and it does not infiltrate the soil. Instead, it has to travel over the surfaces of parking lots, streets, and buildings – and it takes many things that it picks up along the way all the way to the beaches, lakes, and oceans. Also called surface water runoff, or urban runoff, when water travels over man-made surfaces, it picks up garbage, motor oil, gasoline, heavy metals, fertilizers, pesticides, and anything else that was left behind on those surfaces. This causes our beaches and waterways to become dirty and polluted.

It is important for everyone to understand that leaving trash or toxic chemicals here today, means that they could be there (in our water) tomorrow.

WATCH THIS VIDEO: Stormwater Runoff 101


What can you do?

  • Keep litter, pet waste, and debris picked up (and don’t allow them to enter storm drains because they lead directly to lakes, streams, and rivers!)
  • Use chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers sparingly
  • Properly dispose of car oil, antifreeze, paint, and other household chemicals. Never pour these into storm drains, on the ground, or hose them into the street

To learn more about what you can do to prevent pollutants from entering our waterways, and how to reduce runoff, visit the website for the Environmental Protection Agency.

By Erica Larson