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Water: Marine Debris

Prevention, Control, and Reduction: Stormwater

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Stormwater from rainfall and snowmelt can carry litter, trash, and other debris over land and streets into water bodies or municipal water systems. Once in a municipal separate storm sewer system or combined sewer system, the debris is either collected within the system and removed or discharged into natural water bodies. Debris discharged from stormwater outfalls into streams and rivers can then be carried to the ocean. In coastal communities, municipal systems may discharge debris directly into the ocean.

What Can You Do?

You can prevent marine debris from entering stormwater systems. Find out how on the What You Can Do site.

Most stormwater discharges are considered point sources and require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which is authorized under the Clean Water Act. The primary method to control stormwater discharges is through the use of Best Management Practices. These practices can include creating an informed public (Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts), maintaining good housekeeping for municipal operations (Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations), and detecting and eliminating (Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination) any discharge from a storm drain system that is not composed entirely of stormwater.


Ensuring storm drains are free of trash and litter prevents marine debris.

Controlling stormwater discharges from outfalls can help to reduce the amount of marine debris entering the ocean. However, discharges from outfalls are not the only way stormwater contributes to marine debris. Loose materials abandoned in streets or on the ground can be carried by stormwater directly into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. This nonpoint source pollution comes from a variety of actions on land. Actions like littering, leaving garbage cans uncovered, and dumping of solid waste and old equipment near inland water bodies can leave debris in the path of stormwater which carries the debris into water bodies. To help prevent these actions local governments can start a Storm Drain Stenciling Program (PDF) (2 pp, 140K, About PDF), where messages are painted onto storm drains deterring people from dumping anything down the storm drains.

Whether marine debris enters the ocean through a stormwater discharge or is carried by stormwater directly into the marine environment, waste minimization and effective solid waste management play a key role in reducing the amount of marine debris entering our oceans.



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