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What is Stormwater Pollution?

Stormwater pollution is any material that could wash down drains or roadsides into arroyos, ditches or drains. All these lead to the Rio Grande.
Stormwater is not treated at a wastewater plant. It just runs downhill and downstream into the river. (A treatment plant would be very costly. It would have to be large enough to treat an entire storm, but would be idle 95 percent of the time — not a good use of taxpayer funds!)
Trash and pollutants that end up in streets, ditches, and arroyos will likely end up in the river. Every year significant amounts of time and money are spend on street sweeping, maintaining stormwater structures, and installing/improving infrastructure that removes pollutants – but this only goes so far. It is much more effective to stop pollution at the source – that means you!

Pollutants that affect stormwater quality don’t just come from industrial activities, but also from our daily activities, such as leaked automobile fluids, pet waste, and litter. Bernalillo County’s current population is almost 700,000 residents with growth projections of an additional 100,000 residents in the next twenty years. Because of this, what we do every day has a collective impact on the water quality in the river.

Weather patterns appear to be experiencing long-term changes. The general rainfall pattern in the Southwest is changing to fewer storms per year with larger, more intense events when they do occur. This can lead to greater amounts of pollution building up in our community between storm events which are washed into the river with a single large storm.

In addition, with longer periods between storm events, soils can become drier, making them hydrophobic (water repelling). This intensifies the amounts of water and pollution that runoff and travel to the river during storm events.



Clean Streets!

You may not think about it, but street drains along with ditches and arroyos are really streams leading to the river when it rains. It’s important not to dump anything into them.
Clean Streams!
Dog waste is a serious source of bacteria in the river. About 20 percent of the bacteria in the river comes from our pet dogs. It doesn’t break down in our dry climate; it just waits for the rain. Please Scoop the Poop, and learn more about the There is No Poop Fairy campaign. 



How Your Home is Part of Stormwater Pollution

Fluids from vehicles, fertilizers, pesticides, household chemicals, yard waste, and pet waste can all become pollutants in stormwater. The graphic below illustrates some ways that our daily activities influence stormwater quality and some actions we can take to reduce our impact.

When it rains, stormwater picks up debris from roads, chemicals from lawns, oil from cars and bacteria from animal waste.  These pollutants make their way into our drains and arroyos, impairing water quality.
Some actions, such as dumping oil or paint, are obviously harmful to the environment. Other actions, such as letting grass clippings, leaves, or other yard waste be blown or washed away in streets may not be as obviously harmful. The truth is, this area is naturally a desert, and our river system is not adapted to taking in large amounts of organic matter from landscaped yards. This can add large amounts of nutrients to the river, causing algal blooms, depleting oxygen, and killing fish and other organisms.
Other common activities such as washing vehicles can negatively impact stormwater quality with cleaners, dirt, and oil residue from vehicles that are removed during washing. Instead, wash vehicles over grass and allow wash water to soak into the ground to prevent contaminants from entering stormwater.
The Rio Grande has been impaired due to bacterial contaminants such as E. coli. One of the biggest sources for E. coli in the river is dog waste. For more information pet waste and bacterial contaminants visit this website, and visit this website to see how pet waste impacts the river.

The Rio Grande

The Rio Grande has a total maximum daily load (TMDL) limit for bacteria set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). This is a result of impairments in the river for E. coli. The source of this bacteria is mammal waste, or feces. There are natural sources, such as birds and mice, as well as sources caused by human activities, such as wastewater and sewage, and dog and other pet waste.
Upper Tijeras Creek, located in the east mountain area of Bernalillo County, is impacted by activities from the nearby urbanized area and a TMDL for nutrients has been established for it. Nutrients include nitrates/nitrites, total nitrogen, and phosphorus. Likely sources of nutrients include failing septic systems, grey water discharges, fertilizers, and decomposing plant material.

Responsibly Disposing of Household Waste is Easy and Free

Properly disposing of household hazardous wastes is easier than people may know. For residences of Bernalillo County, disposing of household waste is a free service! Wastes can be dropped off at the Hazardous Waste Collection Center four days a week including Saturday. Accepted wastes include paints, automotive fluids, pesticides, solvents, fluorescent bulbs/tubes, and some cleaners. For more details on what is accepted, contact information, and hours of operation please click on this website or call the Advanced Chemical Transport (ACT) hotline at (505) 349-5220.

Additional resources for waste disposal include:

  • free curbside pick-up of yard waste twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall
  • free large item pick-up for county residents
  • oil and automotive fluid wastes, up to five gallons per day, are accepted at most automobile parts stores

For more information, please visit this website.

Dumping and Illicit Discharges

Bernalillo County takes the health of our river and environment seriously. If you see illegal dumping, illicit discharges, or have seen something you think may be a hazard to water quality, we want to know. For more information on how to report illicit discharges and illegal dumping, please visit this website.

Federal Regulation of Water Quality in the Rio Grande

Under the Clean Water Act, Bernalillo County is required to comply with conditions of the National Pollutant Discharge Ellimination System (NPDES). Visit this website for more information regarding federal regulation of stormwater in Bernalillo County.

Only Rain in the Drains!

The United States Environmental Protection Agency regulates stormwater pollution nationwide, including Bernalillo County. Please see our EPA page for more information.

Weather Web Sites

Federal Websites

Volunteer Weather Maps
If you appreciate the volunteer efforts of CoCoRaHS and the Weather Underground, please consider joining their networks!
Other Weather Related Information


Bosque Ecological Monitoring Program. Sources of E. coli in the Middle Rio Grande. 2011.

Institute for Geospatial and Population Studies. Population Estimates. University of New Mexico. July 1, 2017.

Luong, T.M., Castro, C.L., Chang, H.I., Lahmers, T., Adams, D.K. and Ochoa-Moya, C.A., 2017. The More Extreme Nature of North American Monsoon Precipitation in the Southwestern United States as Revealed by a Historical Climatology of Simulated Severe Weather Events. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 56(9):2509-2529.

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