Storm Drain Stenciling


Many people believe that surface water pollution is caused by big businesses or large government facilities that have waste disposal pipes discharging directly into the rivers. On the whole, this in no longer the case. In recent years these pollution sources have greatly reduced their negative impact on water quality. These facilities are required to maintain current discharge permits (with EPA and/or DEQ), and are stringently regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The NPDES permit program sets pollution limitations and other necessary limitations on each waste discharge point, with permits typically requiring renewal in 5 years. Provisions of the NPDES permits are enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency and/or the Division of Environmental Quality pursuant to Section 402 of the Clean Water Act.

In comparison to big facilities with identifiable pipes (known as "point-source" polluters), storm water runoff is a "non-point" source of pollution. That is, the ultimate source of the pollution cannot be identified. These pollutants are used on lawns, left on driveways and roads, and allowed to go down gutters into storm drains. As a result, storm water runoff is one of the leading causes of surface water contamination. This is because the water picks up various pollutants as it drains, which can negatively impact the plants, wildlife and water quality of the receiving water body. EPA has a great web site where you can learn all about nonpoint source pollution at

Some examples of surface water pollutants that come from "non-point" sources via storm drains include:

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Street litter, pet wastes and other debris;

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Silt, gravel, topsoil, etc. resulting from erosion;

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, yard waste and other lawn care residues;

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Motor oil, gasoline, transmission fluid, anti-freeze and other substances that leak from cars onto driveways and parking lots.

Allowing these and any other materials to go into a storm drain here in Pocatello or Chubbuck is the same as going up to a bank of the Portneuf River and dumping them directly into the water! Why? Because there is no treatment facility between the storm drain inlet on your street corner and its outlet at the river. This is true of almost all storm drains across the country. Water treatment plants are fairly delicate systems - requiring strict chemistry protocols. The costs and logistics of storm water treatment are prohibitive, as a treatment facility would have to be able to handle vast fluctuations in load (i.e. the volume of incoming water to be treated). Alternative treatment protocols are being developed however. For example, some storm drains first take storm water runoff to retention ponds near schools and subdivisions before going directly into the river. In addition to storm water management, these retention ponds provide habitat for plants and wildlife.



Storm drain stenciling programs can be effective tools to reduce the illegal dumping of litter, oil, pesticides and other toxic substances down urban runoff drainage systems. Highly visible graphics and messages serve as educational reminders to the public that storm drains often discharge untreated runoff directly into rivers and lakes. Anyone can participate, such as:

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Families: Storm drain stenciling is a great family outing that teaches community involvement and helps the natural environment.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Homeowner Associations: Stenciling the storm drains in your subdivision can help protect nearby rivers and ponds that you and your neighbors enjoy.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) School Groups: Classrooms can stencil the storm drains near their school as part of a water cycle unit.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Youth Clubs: For example, Boy and Girl Scouts, can do storm drain stenciling with their troop as a service project.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Service Organizations: Storm drain stenciling is great for Kiwanis, Rotary, Garden, Women’s, Men’s and other adult clubs looking for community service projects.

As a part of our Result Oriented Activities, Portneuf Valley Groundwater Guardian organizes and implements storm drain stenciling programs. Fifty new drains were stenciled during the year 2000 program. To participate in our next stenciling initiative, or to organize your own program contact: Steve Smart at 208-237-2430 (via e-mail at The Guardian will help with logistics, instructions, stencil supplies, and coordination with the Pocatello/Chubbuck municipalities.



* Storm Drain Stenciling 1
* Storm Drain Stenciling 2
* Storm Drain Stenciling 3
* Storm Drain Stenciling 4



An organization called Clean Ocean Action has implemented a Storm Drain Stenciling Week program that is in its 6th year. Storm Drain Stenciling Week is an event that has set aside time in the spring and in the fall for schools, classes and groups to stencil fish and messages on the storm drains in their local community. Dates for the event are May 23th to May 29th, and October 23th to October 29th. Teachers can call or write for Clean Ocean Action's free Storm Drain Stenciling Packet that includes educational programs and activities on the problem of non-point source pollution for all grade level, such as Geography & Math Lessons, Fact Sheets, Storm Drain Simulation Activity, Vocabulary List, Resource List and much more. The packet is intended to conclude with the Storm Drain Stenciling Activity. Clean Ocean Action will help you coordinate this national event with your local community. Visit their web site for more information at, and make sure to contact the Guardian before starting to plan.



Other simple things you can do to help prevent polluted urban storm water runoff from entering our storm drains include the following:

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Keep litter, pet wastes, leaves, and debris out of street gutters and storm drains--these outlets drain directly to lake, streams, rivers, and wetlands. Place litter, including cigarette butts, in trash receptacles. Never throw litter in streets or down storm drains. Animal wastes contain bacteria and viruses that can cause disease. Pet owners should pick up after their pets and dispose of the wastes in the garbage or toilet.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and according to directions.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Control soil erosion on your property by planting ground cover and stabilizing erosion-prone areas.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Gutters and down spouts should drain onto vegetated or gravel- filled seepage areas - not directly onto paved surfaces. Splash blocks also help reduce erosion. Divert runoff from pavement to grassy, planted or wooded areas of your property, so stormwater can seep slowly into the ground.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Don't hose down driveways or sidewalks. Dry sweeping paved areas, along with careful trash disposal, are simple, effective pollution reducers.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Wash your car on the grass so soapy water soaks into the ground. Use a hose nozzle to prevent water from running when not in use.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes)Properly dispose of household hazardous wastes. Many common household products, (paint thinners, moth balls, drain and oven cleaners, etc.) contain toxic ingredients. When improperly used or discarded, these products are a threat to public health and the environment. Do not pour hazardous products down any drain. Do not discard with regular household trash. Learn about natural and less toxic alternatives (and use them whenever possible) by visiting our Hazardous Waste section. Contact the Fort Hall Mine Landfill at 208-236-0607 for information regarding their Hazardous Waste Collection Days.

dot2.jpg (690 bytes) Recycle all used motor oil by taking it to a service station or local recycling center. Motor oil contains toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans and animals. Do not dump used motor oil down storm drains or on the ground. Clean up spilled brake fluid, oil, grease, and antifreeze. Do not hose them into the street where they can eventually reach local streams and lakes.

GO VISIT Hot Water Topics for more information about Runoff & Erosion,
and additional ideas on how you can reduce pollution in stormwater!

TAKE A LOOK at a public service video about stormwater.