About Stormwater Management

Watershed image from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Stormwater runoff is generated when precipitation from rain and snowmelt flows over land and does not soak into the ground. As runoff flows over impervious surfaces (paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops), it accumulates debris, oil, pet waste, chemicals, sediment or other pollutants that could adversely affect the  quality of nearby waterways if untreated.

Stormwater management is a combination of engineering, construction, site maintenance and public outreach efforts to address runoff quality and quantity.  Structural controls such as pipes, catch basins, and grit chambers are used to control both the quantity and rate of stormwater runoff and the quality of stormwater discharged to water bodies.  Non-structural controls such as water quality monitoring, vegetative swales, public education, and policies relative to pest management, fertilization and construction erosion control are also important.

Studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have demonstrated that stormwater runoff is one of the most significant sources of water pollution. Rain or snow melt can pick up pollutants and wash them into the city's collection system, and this polluted stormwater runoff can be discharged into local rivers and streams without treatment. Common pollutants include motor oils, fuels, greases and metals from vehicles; pesticides and lawn fertilizers; construction dust and sediment; and litter such as cigarette butts, paper wrappers and plastic bottles. In combination, these pollutants can clog waterways, degrade animal habitat, contaminate drinking water, increase flooding, cause erosion of streambeds and siltation of waterways, and decrease the amount of water recharged to aquifers. These issues are especially challenging in an urban environment.

Runoff enters the storm drainage systems through catch basins.  Storm drains often lead directly to streams, rivers, lakes, or beaches. Cambridge storm drains discharge to the Charles River or to the Alewife Brook. Please don't dump!   


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Dept of Public Works

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