Protecting Streams from Water Pollution

Report Water Pollution at 919-996-3940 or

Last updated Oct. 15, 2019 - 4:52 pm
  • *This is a paint spill next to a stormwater catch basin.This is a paint spill next to a stormwater catch basin.
  • *Polluted runoff drains from a garbage dumpster.Polluted runoff drains from a garbage dumpster.
  • *Excessive detergent in runoff drained into this drainage ditch.Excessive detergent in runoff drained into this drainage ditch.
  • *Wash water runoff from a commercial carwash.Wash water runoff from a commercial carwash.
  • *Motor oil that has collected in a small tributary.Motor oil that has collected in a small tributary.

Water pollution is a growing problem in Raleigh. Sediment is the number one pollutant of streams, lakes, and rivers in North Carolina. Another larger contributor is illegal dumping into the stormwater drainage system that feeds our creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes.

There is a common misconception that water flowing into storm drains goes to a treatment plant to get cleaned before flowing into our streams, but that isn't the case.

Stormwater runoff picks up pollutants like dirt, oil, fertilizer, and cigarette butts and carries them directly to the nearest stream, lake, or river -- with no treatment whatsoever.

Some residents and businesses in Raleigh have washed paint, detergents, and oil into the stormwater drainage system without realizing they were causing water pollution.

Raleigh's Stormwater Management Division works to improve surface water quality and reduce water pollution by enforcing the City's ordinance against illicit discharges. The illegal dumping of paint, detergent, oil, or other pollutants into the stormwater drainage system is called an illicit discharge. The pictures shown above are examples of illicit discharges that were eliminated by the City.

See Water Pollution?

Report any of these water polluting situations to the Stormwater Management Division at 919-996-3940 or email

  • a spill entering a stormwater drain, stream or water body
  • failing silt fences
  • poor construction entrances
  • mud tracking into the street from a construction site

For any large spill or a possible hazardous spill, please call 911 to report the situation.

Mud in the Street

Gutter Buddy

Sediment is the scientific term for mud, dirt, and soil. While it is a natural part of the environment, too much of it in one place can pollute our streams, lakes, and rivers. Sediment runoff into our streets and stormwater drains negatively impacts the health of local streams by degrading habitat for aquatic life, decreasing recreational value, and promoting growth of invasive plant species and algae.

Erosion and sediment control is important on every construction site. Construction sites, large or small, can become a problem for existing neighbors as well as the environment when soil has been disturbed.

One way to keep this pollution to a minimum is by installing devices to control erosion and reduce the amount of sediment leaving the construction site. The property owner and construction company should determine the specific practices needed during construction and maintain them throughout the project so off-site sedimentation does not occur.

At a minimum, construction sites should utilize rock construction entrances and silt fence around the edge of the project to prevent sediment from getting into the streets, stormwater swales, and stormwater pipes. Any sediment tracked out in the streets, curb lines, or stormwater swales will be carried to the nearest stream, lake, or river when it rains.

When cleaning sediment off streets, driveways, and paved areas on construction sites, dry sweeping methods should be used instead of water hoses whenever possible. If water must be used to clean pavement, stormwater inlets should be protected to filter sediment entering the stormwater drainage system.


If you have leftover paint, we encourage to open the can, add kitty litter or sand, and let the paint dry to a complete solid. Dried paint can then be disposed of with the regular trash.

Cleaning or wash up of latex paint should be done with regular soap and water.

Carpet Cleaning

There are chemicals and fibers from the carpet that can go directly to our streams and creeks if you dump the dirty water into a storm drain. This water is not treated and is unsafe for the environment. 

  • Vacuum the floor before cleaning it to reduce debris;
  • Do not pump wastewater into the storm drain;
  • Dispose of the water in a utility sink or toilet that’s connected to the sanitary sewer system; and,
  • Follow all cleaning product instructions for additional disposal requirements.


Food Trucks

Never dump fats, oils, and grease from your food truck into a storm drain -- the cooking grease will go right into our streams and creeks!

  • Use a grease trap at your food service facility to dispose of the cooking fats, oils, and grease.
  • Regularly service your grease trap -- have it professionally emptied to prevent overflows and unexpected cleanup costs.

Don't Pollute When Using a Food Truck

Leaves and Grass Clippings

Never put yard waste into a storm drain – grass clippings and leaves can clog storm drains or go right to our streams and creeks.

Landscaping Tips

  1. Leave grass clippings on the lawn (they’re good fertilizer)
  2. Mow away from the pavement
  3. Sweep or blow clippings back onto the lawn
  4. Make compost - Mix grass clippings with leaves and soil
  5. Keep leaves off the street
Landscapers: Keeping Leaves Out of Storm Drains

Illicit Discharges

An overflowing sanitary sewer manhole.

An illicit discharge is an unlawful act of disposing, dumping, spilling, emitting, or other discharge of any substance other than stormwater into the stormwater drainage system. The stormwater drainage system includes streets, ditches, catch basins, yard inlets, lakes, and streams.

Learn more about Illicit Discharges

6 Ways to Prevent Water Pollution

The best way to improve surface water quality is to prevent pollution at its source and never clean up a spill by hosing it into the storm drain!

  • If you see a piece of litter along the curb or in a parking lot, pick it up and throw it away in a garbage can.
  • If you are using fertilizer and some of it gets onto paved areas, blow or sweep the fertilizer back into the grass. Don't apply fertilizer right before it rains.
  • If you're doing yard work, mulching is the best way to manage your grass and yard waste. If you aren't able to compost, leave your grass clippings on your grass and don't blow them into the street.
  • If you're washing a car or other outdoor equipment, try to wash it where the water will drain to gravel or grassed area instead of into the street.
  • If you're changing your oil at home, take your used motor oil to the nearest auto parts store for free. Don't pour your oil down the storm drain.
  • If you are working on a project and spill oil, paint, or another liquid, the best way to prevent the spill from entering the storm system is to use dry cleanup methods. Place kitty litter, sand, or another type of absorbent onto the spilled liquid so that the material gets absorbed into a solid form; then you can sweep it up.

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