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What Can Residents Do To Protect Waterways?

Residents play a role in keeping our rivers clean. What you do on your property or in the street can impact what flows into the rivers. 

Sign up to be a Storm Steward! 

Cambridge’s Storm Stewards Program is a way for residents to get involved to protect the health of our local rivers and reduce street flooding. Residents and business owners are encouraged to participate by claiming (and naming!) a storm drain in their neighborhood and keeping the drain clear of debris, particularly ahead of rain events.

By claiming a drain, volunteers commit to checking on a drain each month and keeping it clear of debris, like trash and leaves. This ensures stormwater can flow into the drain and helps keep these materials out of our waterways. 

  • When clearing a drain, remove any debris that directly blocks your storm drain and clear an area a few feet around the drain to prevent potential blockages.
  • Exercise caution in trafficked areas, and work from the sidewalk as much as possible.
  • Dispose of trash or recyclables appropriately in their respective bins for curbside collection. Organic materials like leaves and sticks can be disposed of with your yard waste.  

With 5,800 City owned storm drains in Cambridge, the task of maintaining them is substantial. City crews work diligently to clear storm drains before and after storms, but this task can be completed more quickly with community assistance. Volunteers can significantly expedite the process, aiding in both pre- and post-storm checks to keep drains functioning optimally.

How do I sign up? 

Visit Cambridge’s Storm Stewards website at https://cambridge.mysticdrains.org/, to find a drain in your neighborhood, give it a name, and commit to checking on your drain each month. 


Any Cambridge resident willing to monitor a storm drain is welcome to become a Storm Steward. Residents can claim as many drains as they would like to care for. 

Keep our rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams clean --  Use de-icer smartly and sparingly!

When the snow melts, do you ever wonder where all that salt and de-icer goes? You guessed it! It flows over our driveways, sidewalks, and roads, into the nearest catch basin, and directly (untreated!) into our waterways. Salt and de-icer recommendations here.

What’s wrong with salt in our water?

SALT in our fresh water is not good for trees, plants, wildlife, or people. Birds can mistake salt crystals for food, eating them and getting sick. Salt can be toxic to fish and others in aquatic systems. Salt is not good for our trees and plants, and in many wetlands salt-tolerant invasives are crowding out our native vegetation, which then affects the wildlife that lose their food sources. And of course salt in our water supplies is not good for us -- we all know that salt is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Salt includes sodium chloride, as well as calcium and magnesium chloride.

Some use SAND, and while it doesn’t carry chemicals into our waterways, it does clog catch basins and cause flooding. It can also carry other pollutants into our waterways. If used, excess sand should be swept up.

What can YOU do to keep your pavement safe while also keeping our waterways clean?

  • Shovel early and often. Remove as much snow and ice as you can, and only use de-icer on what you can’t take care of with a shovel.
  • Follow product instructions and only use as much de-icer as you need. More is not better.
  • Remove slush when de-icer has done it's job.
  • For heavy snowfalls, shovel early and often to avoid the snow compacting and forming ice.
  • For wet snow or sleet and freezing rain, apply de-icer product early on to prevent snow from bonding or ice from building up.

More Clean Water Tips: 

  • Clean up after your dog. Pet waste left on sidewalks and streets flows into catch basins and out to the river.  

You hate stepping in it. And fish hate swimming in it. Always pick up after your pet to prevent harmful bacteria from ending up in our water.  When it rains, dog poop and other pollutants are carried over our sidewalks, driveways, and roads into the nearest storm drain where they flow - untreated - directly into our nearest water body. Dog waste carries high levels of harmful E. coli bacteria and other pathogens that increase public health risks and can cause infections.  Let’s all do our part to protect our water! Learn more about how you can keep pet waste out of our waterways and take the Canines for Clean Water Pledge.

  • Use a rain barrel to capture rain for re-use instead of just letting it run off your property 
  • Create a rain garden to capture rain from downspouts and absorb and reduce stormwater runoff from your yard.  Find more resources here.
  • Test your soil and read fertilizer labels carefully before applying to ensure you're using the right amount. Excess fertilizer will just wash away in the next rain storm. Look for slow-release, phosphorus-free fertilizers that are safer for the environment. 
  • Bag your yard clippings or compost them, just don't dump them in a storm drain or leave them on the sidewalk! Excess organic material rots in waterways, leading to pollution
  • Use de-icing agents smartly and sparingly- avoid salt whenever possible and apply only what is recommended on the package. For heavy snowfalls, shovel early and often to avoid snow compacting and forming ice. Do you ever wonder where all that salt goes? You guessed it! It flows over our driveways, sidewalks, and roads, into the nearest catch basin, and directly (untreated!) into our waterways.
  • Report Illegal Dumping: because catch basins are the entry points of the stormwater drainage system, residents are encouraged to report if they see anything illegal being dumped into them via the Commonwealth Connect App or by contacting the Department of Public Works at 617-349-4800 / theworks@cambridgema.gov. Items that should be reported include motor oil, antifreeze, soapy wash waters, pet waste, yard clippings and paint.
  • Be a Leaf Hero! Keep fallen leaves out of the streets. Do not blow or rake leaves into the street. These leach nutrients into the stormwater runoff, contributing to stormwater pollution. Instead, mulch or bag yard waste collection. But whatever you do, don't dump them near a storm drain or leave them on the sidewalk! Leaves that get washed down the storm drain can cause pollution in our waterways and flooding in our neighborhoods. 
  • Get Rid of It Right! Drop off household hazardous waste at one of the city's household hazardous waste collection events.  Don't pollute the environment by trashing or dumping hazardous waste down the drain!

What do I do if I observe someone dumping trash and other pollutants into storm drains?

Only rain belongs down the storm drain system. Dumping into storm drains is illegal. To report illegal dumping in Cambridge, call 617.349.4800 or use the commonwealth connect app or website.

How do I order a rain barrel?

Cambridge teams up with the Great American Rainbarrel Company and offers a rain barrel promotion annually in the spring.  Rain barrels are pre-ordered and paid through the Great American Rainbarrel Company and picked up at the Public Works' maintenance yard on a single delivery night.  For more information, contact the Great America Rain Barrel Company and continue to check the Public Works website for yearly promotions.

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