Litter in Our Storm Drain System

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

What’s Up With All This Trash?

Last year, The Great American Cleanup, sponsored by Keep America Beautiful, Inc., reported that 2.3 million volunteers picked up 148 million pounds of litter and debris in 14,000 communities across the U.S. That’s an incredible accomplishment for a spring cleanup. But it also says a lot about the extraordinary amount of trash that is polluting our environment.

One might think that Fairfax County residents, more educated and wealthier than most Americans, would be above littering. The folks in the county’s Maintenance and Stormwater Management Division, however, would tell you otherwise.

Phil Miley inspects privately owned stormwater management ponds primarily on commercial property. He travels throughout the county with a camera in hand, capturing images of negligence and intentional disregard for the health and aesthetics of our environment. “The amount of trash we find is incredible,” says Miley. “We’re fighting a losing battle.”

Larry Tapper is a senior maintenance supervisor responsible for the maintenance of about 1,000 publicly maintained ponds. He echoes Miley’s comments. Tapper says the county has a lot of open areas that contractors and developers use as dumping grounds. He says residents do similar damage by dumping grass clippings and other yard debris into a drainage channel or directly into the storm drain. “The public needs to have a better understanding of proper disposal practices,” says Tapper.

Billy Glines oversees crews who have to maintain and repair stormwater structures. Residents are quick to call the county when their backyards flood. Often, the storm drains are plugged, which means the crews have to take the lids off and climb in with buckets. “We find syringes, broken beer bottles, and oil containers,” says Glines. “People have to learn that these storm structures are not trash cans.”

In Reston, he recently found a strapped up bundle of newspapers that were never delivered. “We even find Christmas trees in the catch basins.”

Learn more about proper trash disposal and stormwater management pond maintenance.

underground detention system filled with trash
Pictured above is an underground detention system filled to the top with trash.
dry pond filled with trash
This publicly maintained dry pond is filled with trash. Any substance that makes it through the pipe outlet ends up in a stream.
water quality plate
This water quality plate was torn off by a member of a homeowner association. When the plate is installed, it is the primary device responsible for the detention of trash and other pollutants picked up by stormwater before flowing further downstream. The plate reduces the size of the opening of the pipe outlet, thereby slowing the release of water to let the pollutants settle out. The trash rack covering the plate keeps trash from going downstream.

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