"Clean Water Starts With Me" is a stormwater pollution prevention campaign of Pima Association of Governments to educate the public about the impact of pollution on our desert waterways.
Every year, during the monsoon season, it is easy for stormwater runoff to pick up pollutants, such as pet waste, vehicle fluids, fertilizer, pesticide and trash, along the way and to deposit the contaminants in our fragile desert washes. Over time, pollutants can accumulate in washes, where they may harm wildlife. In addition, stormwater pollution clogs stormdrains, which can lead to monsoon floods and traffic backups when vehicles are unable to get through flooded areas.
- Keeping Our Water Clean
- Featured Outreach
- Watershed Pocket Guide
- Get to Know Your Neighborhood Wash: They Are Ours to Protect!
- Green Infrastructure
- Campaign Awards and Accomplishments
- Clean Water Starts With Me! Partners
Keeping Our Water Clean
Be the solution to stormwater pollution by learning about common stormwater pollutants and applying the following tips in your everyday life.
Common stormwater pollutants
(Click on the pollutants for more details, or here to hide all details)
- Oil and engine fluids
Oil and grease left on roads and driveways is washed away during rain and flood events. These chemicals are highly toxic to desert plants and animals. It only takes four quarts, or about one oil change, of used motor oil to foul 1 million gallons of water.
- Soap and residues from car washing
When you wash your car in a driveway, dirty water and soap ends up in storm drains or desert washes, bringing pollutants with it. Soap and vehicle residues can severely damage fragile desert ecosystems.
During storms, rainwater carries litter from our streets and sidewalks into storm drains and desert washes. This can plug storm drains and harm the plants and animals which make our desert environment so unique and beautiful. Litter causes toxicity as it breaks down and can suffocate turtles, birds and other aquatic life.
- Pet waste
Pet waste can negatively affect the health of our water. Contrary to popular belief, pet waste left on the ground does not decompose easily into safe fertilizer. In fact, pet waste is a primary pollutant in stormwater. Spread over our entire watershed, this waste can all add up. The 230,000 dogs in Pima County can produce 63 million pounds of feces each year, and just 1 gram of pet waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria, viruses and parasites in pet waste can cause intestinal illness and serious kidney disorders in people and animals. Certain parasites can even survive in the soil for years.
Locally, fecal contamination levels in stormwater have been found to be unsafe for swimming and other recreational uses, and a portion of the Santa Cruz River is listed as impaired for E. coli bacteria in stormwater.
- Household hazardous wastes and products
Household hazardous wastes include leftover cooking oil, paint, batteries, drain openers, and much more. If these are improperly used, stored, or disposed of, they can be released into stormwater and cause great environmental harm. For information about household chemicals, see EPA's Web site on non-point source pollution.
As rainwater flows across land, it picks up fertilizers and carries them to storm drains, which lead to desert washes. Nutrients from fertilizers feed algae blooms, which can clog pipes and create an unpleasant landscape. When the algae die and decompose, the oxygen level in the water drops, killing aquatic organisms.
- Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides
These chemicals are designed to kill a variety of pests. During storms, rainwater washes these chemicals from plants and the soil. When pesticides are released into the environment, they can kill or severely harm native plants, animals and insects.
- Yard waste
Throwing away green wastes (leaves, tree branches, other green wastes) in the yard, in streets, over the fence, or in washes and alleys can add to stormwater pollution and clog storm drains.
- Eroded Soil
Erosion caused by construction and other activities introduces fine sediments that clog the sensitive habitat for amphibians. Fertilizers, pesticides, or other chemicals in the soil are carried along with it and can accumulate in the tissues of organisms and be highly toxic in aquatic environments.
Be a conscious commuter
- Keep your vehicle leak free
Check your parking area regularly for drips and stains, and take your vehicle in for regular maintenance to ensure that it will not leak. This will not only reduce stormwater pollution, but it will increase the life of your vehicle. If you notice a leak, have it fixed immediately and clean up any drips or spills. Our streets are our stormwater conveyance system in Tucson, so everything on them gets picked up and eventually deposited in the natural water courses.
- Properly dispose of oil and automotive fluids
- Use commercial car washes
When you wash your car in a driveway, dirty water and soap end up in storm drains and then desert washes. Commercial car washes collect dirty water and send it to wastewater treatment facilities, which remove hazardous chemicals and then reclaim the water for turf.
- Use alternative transportation
Biking, walking, carpooling, or riding the bus reduces vehicle use and will reduce pollution at the source. Sun Rideshare and Sun Tran are great transportation alternatives.
Be a good neighbor
Be a good citizen
- Don’t litter
Throw your own trash into the garbage and help pick up litter in your neighborhood. Be a good example and don’t be a litter bug.
- Pick up after your pets
Recent studies show that bacteria are a leading concern in Tucson’s stormwater, and the source of the majority of those bacteria… our dogs! Pet waste contamination in washes is preventable if we each do our part and scoop it, bag it, trash it.
Dog droppings, unless properly composted, do not make safe fertilizer. Even composted pet waste should not be used on food crops. If you are interested in composting dog droppings, make sure you follow U.S. Department of Agriculture guidance to handle the concerns specific to pet pathogens.
- Practice good horse keeping
When not managed properly, horse manure can pollute the environment as ground or surface water pollution, affect the health of horses and caretakers, promote unwanted insect breeding, and become a nuisance to neighbors by generating excessive odors and flies. For more info click here.
- Harvest rainwater
By contouring your yard to capture rain where it falls, you can reduce erosion and the spread of yard chemicals or other mobile pollutants. It also helps slow runoff so that peak flood flows are reduced and water is conserved since more water can seep into your plants’ root zone.
Vegetation (including trees, shrubs and grasses) planted in or near your rainwater harvesting basins captures sediments and pesticides in runoff, as well as large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, which are pollutants to waterways. Vegetation additionally helps stormwater runoff travel slowly and store water in soils. The deep root systems of trees and shrubs absorb stormwater and stabilize soil to reduce erosion. Try water harvesting(PDF) at your home
- Report Illegal Dumping
- Clean up litter in the community
Be a positive example for other members of your community and help pick up litter. Bring a trash bag with you during your neighborhood stroll or get a group together to adopt a park, street or wash.
- Plant trees
Planting trees in your yard can help to reduce erosion, with the added benefit of beautifying and shading your home to reduce energy use! You may qualify for low-cost trees for your home, community or school through Trees for Tucson.
Make it your business
- Keep company vehicles and parking lots free of leaking fluids
Make sure that company vehicles are not leaking oil or automotive fluids. If you notice a spill in your parking lot, cover with kitty litter for one to two days, or until all liquid is absorbed. Collect the kitty litter in a bag and dispose of it at a hazardous waste facility. Do not dispose of the chemicals in the trash.
- Do not clean equipment outside near stormdrains
Clean all equipment over a drain which leads to the sanitary sewer. If equipment is washed outside, soap, oil and other hazardous chemicals can flow into stormdrains which are directed to our desert washes.
- Store chemicals appropriately
Make sure all chemicals are stored in appropriate containers so they will not leak. Store these containers in an area sheltered from rainfall.
- Use landscape chemicals sparingly
Only apply fertilizers and pesticides as directed, and avoid using them three days before rain is forecasted.
- Harvest rainwater
In 2010, a Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Ordinance took effect in Tucson and a new Landscape Code took effect in Oro Valley. Both aim to reduce landscape water use in new commercial developments by 50 percent. While the Tucson ordinance requires rainwater harvesting to account for the entire 50 percent, the Oro Valley code requires rainwater harvesting in combination with other water saving measures, such as the use of approved drought-tolerant plants, to account for the water savings. Rainwater harvesting is also a best management practice that helps development sites comply with state AZPDES (Arizona Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) requirements.
Even if your property was developed before the ordinance took effect, you can still benefit from rainwater harvesting. Earthworks are easy and inexpensive to install, and they will reduce your water bill during rainy seasons. You also can capture and store rainwater in cisterns. Cisterns are more expensive to install, but captured rainwater also can be used indoors for non-potable uses, such as flushing toilets.
- Pick up trash on your property
Be a good example for other businesses and pick up any trash you find on your property.
- Keep dumpsters closed and leak free
On windy days, trash can blow out of open trash containers. Rain can also turn dumpsters into a disgusting garbage soup. By closing dumpster lids, you can keep stormwater clean and avoid a nasty mess.
Be sure to recycle as much as possible. The less you throw in the trash, the less likely waste materials will make it into stormdrains and washes. Even cooking grease can be recycled to produce valuable biodiesel.
- Follow stormwater protocols at construction sites
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Additional outreach materials and resources are available
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The Watershed Map of Eastern Pima County, updated in 2018 illustrates a comprehensive approach to understanding and protecting our watershed by:
- Providing a practical guide to stormwater pollution prevention
- Explaining how water can pick up pollution as it flows to the fragile desert waterways
- Providing a 3D birds-eye view of our region
- Helping the reader get to know, explore, understand the water system
- Encouraging the reader to reduce one's human impact on our watershed
- Additional green infrastructure demonstration sites are viewable on PAG's interactive Green Infrastructure Map
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Get to Know Your Neighborhood Wash
One of the goals of "Clean Water Starts With Me!" is to aid the community stewardship of our valuable desert waterways. Click on the map to learn the names and locations of our local watersheds and nearest desert rivers. Share your knowledge with your neighbors to help decrease pollutant stress on our stormwater quality.
These maps were produced by TerraSystems Southwest for Watershed Management Group, using data from Pima County and the City of Tucson.
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Streets designed with green infrastructure help to mimic natural washes by capturing stormwater to sustain vegetation. This process breaks down pollutants in soils, saves water, improves infiltration, provides cool tree shade, calms traffic and makes neighborhoods more vibrant.
Learn more on PAG’s Green Infrastructure page.
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Campaign Awards and Accomplishments
The “Clean Water Starts With Me” campaign has received the following recognition:
- PAG contributed materials from the campaign to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Non-Point Source Outreach Toolbox as sample materials to help other communities develop effective targeted outreach campaigns for stormwater pollution prevention.
- The campaign received a first-place award at the 2009 National Association of Flood and Stormwater Agencies’ (NAFSMA) conference. The “Excellence in Communication Award” was in the “Improvement in Water Quality” category. PAG coordinated with the Town of Oro Valley to submit the outreach program, which promotes stormwater pollution prevention. On Oct. 22, 2009, the Town accepted the trophy on behalf of PAG. NAFSMA represents more than 100 public agencies that conduct stormwater and flood management activities. The City of Tucson and Town of Oro Valley are members.
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Clean Water Starts With Me! Partners
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Click here to learn how the construction industry can help prevent stormwater pollution.