FAQ

What is stormwater?
Is there a difference between the storm drain and sewer system?
What is a watershed and how do I affect it?
What is an illicit discharge?
What is E-waste?
How do I properly dispose of E-waste?
The creek near my house is polluted. What can be done about it?
Why should I recycle used motor oil and filters?
There's oil in the street in front of my house. What should I do about it?
Can I drain my pool into the storm drain?
Leaves and yard clippings are organic. Why can't I put them down the storm drain?
If I can't dump left over chemicals into the sanitary sewer, what can I do with them?
Why shouldn't I wash my car at home, I use biodegradable soap?
It's ok to rinse my paint supplies out in the gutter, right?
What am I supposed to do with my dirty mop water; I don't want to dump it in my clean sink.
 
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What is stormwater?
Stormwater runoff is any water, either through rain, sprinklers, or irrigation of yards/gardens, that falls and is transported over land and pavement into local waterbodies through the storm drain system. Any water that flows into a storm drain is deposited into creeks, the Bay, or the Pacific Ocean without treatment. Learn more on the Stormwater 101 page.
 
Is there a difference between the storm drain and sewer system?
Yes, an important difference. Stormwater and all the pollutants that flow from our homes, parking lots and streets to the gutter into the storm drains flow directly into our creeks and other water bodies untreated. Water and pollutants that flow into the sanitary sewer, such as water from our sinks, bathtubs and toilest, are sent to a wastewater treatment facility before the water is discharged to the Bay or Ocean.
 
What is a watershed and how do I affect it?
A watershed is an area of land that catches and drains water into a creek, stream, or river via direct runoff or smaller tributaries and eventually ends up in a large body of water such as the San Francisco Bay or Pacific Ocean. As stormwater flows over land and across the watershed into the creek, it carries polluted urban runoff such as used motor oil and grease, pesticides, trash and other harmful debris. This is where the public comes in. The more we can prevent polluting the watershed, the healthier our waterways will be and the habitat it supports.
 
What is an Illicit Discharge?
The discharge of pollutants or non-stormwater materials to storm sewer systems via overland flow or direct dumping of materials into a catch basin is an illicit or illegal discharge. Some examples of illicit discharges include washing paint, or dumping used motor oil in or around a storm drain. Dumping of automotive fluids, washwaters, construction materials, sediment and/or silt, and food wastes into a storm drain are also illegal. To report an illicit discharge incident contact the Illicit Discharge Coordinator for your city. Note: If you are reporting an emergency situation that could result in imminent or substantial danger to the health and safety of persons, call 911.
 
What is E-waste?
E-waste (electronic wate) is a term for electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life." Products such as computers, computer monitors, televisions, VCRs, stereos, microwaves, and fax machines are common electronic goods. Many of these products can be reused or recycled. Unfortunately, electronic discards are one of the fastest growing segments of our nation's waste stream. When we improperly dispose of e-waste, the mercury or the lead from the cathode ray tubes leaches into surface and groundwater. Computer monitors and televisions are banned from disposal in landfills due to the high amounts of lead that they contain.
 
How do I properly dispose of E-waste?
Some cities have E-waste recycling events on special dates. In San Mateo County there are also drop-off locations and pick-up recycling options for computers, televisions, cell phones, fax machines, stereos, and other electronic equipment. Visit the RecycleWorks website for locations and more information.
 
The creek near my house is polluted. What can be done about it?
You can be proactive and inform your neighbors of proper pollution prevention behaviors. You can also start a creek group and promote water health. If there is a toxic spill call 911 and trained firefighters will either clean up the pollution or contact the proper agency, depending on the nature of the pollutant.
 
Why should I recycle used motor oil & filters?
Recycling the motor oil from your car, truck, motorcycle, boat, RV or lawnmower is one way that you can demonstrate your commitment to protect the environment for future generations while conserving energy resources. Used motor oil contains heavy metals and other harmful contaminates that negatively impact the environment. Some cities offer curbside used oil recycling collection programs and certified used oil recycling centers will pay $.16 cents per gallon. View a listing of used motor oil and filter recycling options.
 
There's oil in the street in front of my house. What should I do about it?
If you can't determine who is responsible for the pollution, sprinkle it with kitty litter, sweep up the soiled absorbent and place it in a household hazardous waste container for disposal at a HHW collection event near you.
 
Can I drain my pool into the storm drain?
Only if the water is dechlorinated and has never been treated with copper-based algaecides.
 
Leaves and yard clippings are organic. Why can't I put them down the storm drain?
When organic and/or yard waste decays in water, the "breakdown" process removes oxygen from the water that is necessary for the health of all aquatic species from microorganisms to fish. Essentially, it robs the aquatic life of oxygen and suffocates them. Yard debris can be recycled through curbside collection programs throughout the County, or can be composted at home to help your garden.
 
If I can't dump left over chemicals into the sanitary sewer, what can I do with them?
Take them to a local household hazardous waste collection event.
 
Why shouldn't I wash my car at home, I use biodegradable soap?
When washing cars, the water runoff can enter the storm drains. This puts pollutants such as grease, dirt, oil, metals and soap to our local creeks. Even biodegradable soaps require oxygen to breakdown, depleting our creek of the oxygen fish and other organisms need to survive. Also, just because the soap breaks down, doesn't mean it breaks down into components that should be in the water. It is best to take your car to a car wash where the water is discharged to the sanitary sewer system or wash your car on a lawn or other surface where the water can be drained down and filtered through the soil.
 
It's ok to rinse my paint supplies out in the gutter, right?
No. Read the paint can label; if it is "latex" or water based paint, you can wash the paint equipment in a sink that is plumbed to sanitary sewer. Any sink in your house should do. Leftover latex paint can be taken to over a dozen free drop-off locations.
 
If it is a "oil based" paint do not wash equipment in the sink!
Oil based paint equipment can be cleaned using solvents and thinners. Dispose of oil based paints, solvents and thinners at a household hazardous waste event or take it to one of nearly a dozen free drop-off store locations.
 
What am I supposed to do with my dirty mop water; I don't want to dump it in my clean sink.
If something is too dirty or "gross" for you to want to dump it in a sink in your home, it is definitely not acceptable for the storm drain. The water should go into the sink or pour it onto your yard or dirt to soak into the ground. Remember, only rain down the storm drain!