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Help Stop Water Pollution

Water Pollution is defined as “the addition of harmful substances to natural water sources."

Clean water is essential for sustaining life. Fish, birds and wildlife depend on clean water sources to survive just as people do. When it becomes unfit for drinking or recreation, both manmade and natural communities suffer and deteriorate. Dirty or polluted water is one of the world’s largest health risks.

Image of trash collecting at a tree.

Not only is polluted water a global problem but it greatly affects the local environment as well. Sources of water pollution include the accidental and purposeful disposal of the following substances into a stream or waterway:


♦  Automotive Fluids   ♦  Paint 
♦  Industrial Waste   ♦  Litter
♦  Pesticides   ♦  Fertilizers
♦  Yard Waste & Debris   ♦  Fats, Oils & Grease (FOG)



This list is just some of the many items that accumulate in our streams by irresponsible individuals or businesses. It most often occurs because of ignorance or negligence, but you can take steps to prevent it from happening in your neighborhood.


Report Pollution Issues

Montgomery County has a Water Quality Ordinance (Chapter 19, Article IV, Water Quality Control) that provides guidelines and regulations for preventing water pollution and enforcing against violators in the County. If you find evidence of water pollution occurring or that has occurred, you should report it to the County by calling 311.

Image of illegal dumping.


The following actions are specifically prohibited in the County:

a. A person must not discharge, or cause to flow from a storage system or other container, any pollutant into waters of the state in the County except in concentrations or quantities explicitly authorized by an approved National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System discharge permit or by a plan for compliance, or that are consistent with the utilization of approved best management practices.

b. A person must not connect any apparatus discharging any pollutant, in any quantity, to any part of the waters of the state in the County except as explicitly authorized by an approved National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System discharge permit or by a plan for compliance, or as results from approved best management practices.

c. A person must not improperly store, handle, or apply any pollutant in a manner that will cause its exposure to rainfall or runoff and discharge as point source or nonpoint source pollution into waters of the state in the County except in concentrations or quantities authorized by an approved National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System discharge permit or by a plan for compliance, or as results from approved best management practices. (1994 L.M.C., ch. 31, § 1.)


Illegal Dumping

Illegal dumping is a serious offense. The DEP investigates every case of reported illegal dumping. If convicted, illegal dumpers are subject to a minimum $500 civil fine and possible criminal prosecution. Report illegal dumping at 311.

Prevention at Home

Preventing water pollution at home can be very simple. Here are things you can do to ensure you are helping to keep our streams and water supply clean, safe and healthy.

Automobile Care Automobile Fluids   Fats, Oils and Grease          
Pet Waste Septic Systems       Swimming Pools
Yard Care and Landscaping     



Automobile Care

Most of us don't think of cars as a source of water pollution, but they can be. You can prevent water pollution by maintaining and repairing your car responsibly.


Vehicle Wash Water

Washing vehicles and discharging wash water to the environment is a type of water pollution.

  • Vehicle wash water contains oils, grease, metal (paint chips), brake dust, rust, detergents, cleaners, road salts, and other chemicals that can contaminate surface waters.

  • Soaps can add ammonia, phenols, dyes, and acids to the mix. All soaps—even those labeled "biodegradable"—contain surfactants, which enable the cleaner to rinse off easily with water. Surfactants can cause many problems in streams and rivers. Some fish and fish eggs can be killed by even low concentrations.

What You Can Do:

If possible, wash your vehicle at a commercial carwash facility, where the wash water is treated before getting into our local waterways. Commercial businesses that wash vehicles, including portable vehicle-detailing operations, are prohibited from discharging wash water to the environment. The businesses are required to direct all wash water to the sanitary sewer which goes to the local wastewater treatment plant or capture and contain it to be hauled off-site for proper disposal.

Consider washing your vehicle on a porous surface, such as a lawn, where the wash water can soak into the soil, be treated by soil particles and microbes, and be filtered before it enters the groundwater.


Automobile Fluids

Many automotive fluids—motor oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, degreasers, solvents, and the like—are hazardous wastes. They're toxic to us, animals, and to the environment.

Pouring used auto fluids like antifreeze and brake fluid into a storm drain or driving a car on top of a drain and letting fluids flow into the drain not only pollutes waterways—it's illegal. Violators will be prosecuted and fined up to $500 per incident.


What You Can Do: 

You can help reduce pollution from vehicle fluids by following a few common-sense guidelines:

  • When you're making repairs or performing minor maintenance, make sure you've protected the sidewalk, curb, street, and gutter from automotive fluids before you start working.

  • Place a pan or container under the oil pan, brake line, or other auto part on which you're performing maintenance or which is heavily leaking.

  • Place pads, cardboard, newspaper, or kitty litter around the pan to catch spills and leaks.

  • Recycle used oil and antifreeze at the County Transfer Station or a service station.

  • Place lightly soiled (only) absorbent materials in the trash.

  • Collect used automotive fluids in sealable containers marked with their contents. Never mix different fluids in one container. Store the containers in a secure location where they can't spill, tip over, or wash off into a storm drain.

  • Take used transmission, brake, or other automotive fluids and heavily soaked absorbent materials to the Transfer Station's Household Hazardous Waste Collection Area.


Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG)

Grease is a by-product of cooking. It comes from meat, fats, oils, shortening, butter, margarine, food scraps, sauces, and dairy products. When it's improperly handled, stored, or disposed of, waste cooking grease can cause significant water quality impacts.

DEP supports the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's Fats, Oils, and Grease page, which has detailed information on the grease problem and how to prevent it.


Graphic of man walking his dog and disposing of the pet waste properly.Pet Waste

Every pet owner plays a part in preventing water pollution in our watersheds. Responsible pet owners pick up after their pets, both at home and on public land.

Pet Waste is Dangerous to Your Health

Pet waste is more than just a nuisance – it is also a serious health hazard. It is considered raw sewage and can contain harmful bacteria and parasites that can be tracked into your home and infect you, your family, and even your pets.

Dog waste can infect other dogs with diseases such as Canine Parvovirus and Canine Distemper. These illnesses can cause dogs to have partial or total paralysis, nerve damage, vomiting and diarrhea.

Every time it rains, pet waste left to decay on sidewalks, lawns, or common areas is washed into storm drains that may lead directly into our streams, causing pollution in our waterways. Picking up after your pet is the law. If you are caught not picking up after your pet, you can get a $100 fine. (Chapter 5 Animal Control. Section 5.203) 

It’s Simple: Scoop it, Bag it, and Trash it!

Carry disposable bags and pick up pet waste when out on walks, in your yard, or in a park. Properly dispose of pet waste by bagging and sealing the waste and depositing it in a trash can or pet waste receptacle. Do not place it in a storm drain or leave it on the ground.

Did you know? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a typical dog excretes 274 pounds of waste per year. 

Image of dogs and their owners who participate in a pet waste station pilot.


Pet Waste Pilot in the Rock Creek Watershed.

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection is sponsoring a pilot project to study the effectiveness of installing pet waste collection stations in communities. The goal is to determine if these stations and community education help change the way people and communities view the problems associated with pet waste. The County has undertaken this Pilot Project to address elevated levels of bacteria from pet waste found in Montgomery County tributaries of Rock Creek. This pilot will be completed by July 2014. As a result of this pilot outreach material has been developed and is available upon request.

Join the Poop Loop: Scoop it, Bag it, and Trash it!

Learn more about the Pet waste pilot conducted in the rock creek watershed

Septic Systems

For areas in the County that are not served by public sewer, residents must have properly functioning septic systems. Septic systems treat wastewater from your home or business and disperse the treated “effluent” into the soil in a designated 'leachfield'. Septic systems need to be cleaned out on a routine basis to assure they keep functioning as designed. Learn more about how to keep your septic system in tip top shape.


Swimming Pools

The water in swimming pools must be treated with chlorine to kill possible pathogens and protect human health. Even at extremely low levels, chlorine can be toxic to aquatic animals and plants. When draining a pool, the water must be discharged to the public sewer not to a storm drain. Learn more about regulations to protect stream water quality while draining pools.

What You Can Do: 

Use the following guidelines when discharging swimming pool water:

  • Pool water must sit for at least 48 hours after the addition of chlorine, or until the chlorine level is below 0.1 milligrams/liter. Chlorine concentration should be tested using a standard pool chlorine test kit prior to discharge.

  • The pH of the pool water must not be less than 6.5 or greater than 8.5 at the time of discharge.

  • The pool water must be free of algaecide at the time of discharge. Algaecide can severely affect normal algae and plant growth in streams.

  • The water should not look murky or cloudy. Solids suspended (or particles) in the water must be below 60 milligrams/liter. The best way to achieve this level of clarity is to allow visible particles to settle out of the water. The material settled out should not be discharged with the water.

For community pools in areas served by public sewer, pool water must be discharged to the public sewer and must not be discharged to a storm drain. For residential pools, backwash water must be discharged to the public sewer. If your only option in draining pool water is to discharge directly into the environment, the water being discharged must comply with the State of Maryland Water Quality Criteria, contained in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR).


Yards and Landscaping

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Water flows downhill”. Well this is particularly important to consider when it comes to your yard and landscaping. When water lands on, or flows across your property, it can do a few things:

1. Soak into the Ground

2. Evaporate

3. Pond Up

4. Run Off


The first two items are good, but the last two can create problems for you or your neighbors. If the water ponds up in your yard for long periods of time, it's a sign of poor drainage and possibly a source of mosquitoes. If it runs off rapidly, it can lead to erosion and flooding on downstream properties.

The County's RainScapes program has many ways that you can prevent runoff from becoming a problem on your property or on your neighbors' properties.


Prevention in Your Community

We need every County resident to pitch in to help protect local watersheds. All of our individual actions combine to make a big difference! We can improve the health of county watersheds, by focusing on our local streams, rivers, and lakes, providing benefits to our own community as well as the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Here are problems that affect our watersheds and ways you can help prevent them.

►  Littering      ►  Illegal Dumping
►  Construction ►  Coal Tar Ban



Litter is defined as any trash that is not put in the correct container, and instead, left in an open area. Littering is a problem for every community in a few different ways.

  • Trash that accumulates in public areas such as along roads or in parks can make the area seem not cared for and unsafe.

  • Roadside litter is carried by stormwater through the storm drains into local streams, and potentially into the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers.

  • Litter could reach the County's major sources for drinking water.

Nobody wants to see litter in their neighborhood. Also, children and animals may touch or ingest trash that has been left on the ground which could make them sick, or even be fatal.

Litter that ends up in our environment will eventually be carried to our rivers and streams causing water pollution. Even small pieces of trash like straw wrappers or organic material such as banana peels need to be disposed of properly. Every piece of litter that ends up in our waterways can be problematic to the water quality and disrupt the natural environment.

Learn about the County's anti-littering pilot in the White Oak neighborhood

What can you do?

Make sure that every piece of trash you have ends up in the proper place! Always carry waste to the closest trash or recycling receptacle. Help us reduce litter and trash in our waterways:


Illegal Dumping

Image of illegal dumping site.Anything that is flushed or poured down a storm drain may eventually reach local streams and other waterways without being treated to remove the pollutants. Automotive fluids dumped down a storm drain are one unfortunate example. Dumping items like tires, lawn care debris, or large household appliances and old bicycles directly into a stream channel also affects the health and beauty of the stream.

What can you do?

Don't dump yard trim and trash onto stream banks or directly into streams and rivers. Trash dumped into the stream can lead to big pollution problems. If you see illegal dumping in or along streams, report it to 311. Click here to learn more about why yard waste needs to be kept out of streams. With a nationally recognized solid waste program, it is easy to appropriately dispose of or recycle any trash and waste material in Montgomery County.



Have you ever seen dirty or muddy water running off construction sites into local streams? Although a small amount of cloudiness is natural in some streams, particularly after a large rainstorm, too much sediment can cause problems. Excessive amounts of sediment in our streams can be caused by:

  • Runoff from construction sites or land-disturbing activities

  • Improper disposal of soil and construction debris

Construction or Land-Disturbance

You can help prevent and limit sediment loading into our local streams. If you spot discolored or muddy water running off a construction site or any other land-disturbing activity you should report it through 311. You need to be as specific as possible about the site's location.

Learn more about sediment runoff from construction sites.


Coal Tar Ban

Planning on sealing your drive way or parking lot?

Make sure you are using a sealant that does not contain coal tar. As of December 18, 2012, the use of pavement sealants containing coal tar is prohibited in Montgomery County. Use of a coal-tar based sealant can subject the applicator and the property owner to a fine of up to $1,000.

Visit the DEP Coal Tar Ban webpage for more information on the ban and how coal tar negatively impacts our local waters.