Urban Runoff

Storm Drains Lead to the Bay

When it rains, the stormwater washes everything off streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces, carrying it into storm drains. This rush of water can include trash, pesticides, and fertilizers from lawns, heavy metals from industry, chemicals from tires, oil and grease from roads and driveways, and any other pollutant found in our cities.  

Most cities around the Bay Area have storm drains that dump the polluted water and trash into creeks and rivers that flow to the Bay, or directly into the Bay itself.

The Hazards

Trash in the water poses a hazard for swimmers and surfers. And for wildlife, trash is a matter of life and death. Fish and birds can mistake plastic and other debris for food, or get tangled up in large rafts of trash. And plastic trash litters the Bay, as well as creeks, shorelines, and neighborhoods—and it will take generations to break down—if it ever breaks down. 

Pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants like heavy metals and oil and grease are also known to have a harmful impact on fish and wildlife hindering their growth, brain health, and reproductive development. 

Recently, a compound found in car tires, known as 6PPD, has been found to wash off city roads and make salmon sick in waterways along the West Coast. 

Stemming the Tide

Bay Area cities have a responsibility to keep these chemicals, trash, and other pollution on their streets out of the Bay. Greater investments in upgrading existing infrastructure, including trash capture devices, as well new investments in green infrastructure to filter out pollutants, will help stem the tide of urban runoff into the Bay.  

Here are a few ways that Baykeeper is working to reduce the flow of pollution from city streets into the Bay:

  • Baykeeper helped pass the first regulation of stormwater runoff in the Bay Area back in the early 2000s.
  • We helped pass the first zero trash policy in the state and now we’re advocating and litigating to make sure cities meet that requirement.
  • At the state and federal level, we’ve successfully lobbied for legislation to help stop trash at the source, by limiting single-use plastic.
  • And we’ve filed lawsuits and have legally-binding agreements against some of the cities with the most polluted urban runoff in the Bay Area.
Coho salmon may be particularly vulnerable to a toxic compound in urban runoff from car tires (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

Here’s how you can help

Clean up trash before it pollutes the Bay! Baykeeper provides guidance for hosting your own shoreline, park, or neighborhood cleanup. Learn how you can protect the Bay from trash.

We regularly host shoreline trash monitoring events and cleanups—check out our events page to register for our next cleanup event.

Want to help us advocate for solutions to stop trash and other city pollution from getting to the Bay’s shoreline in the first place? Fill out the form below.

Take Action

I Want the Bay to Be Trash Free!

Anyone who has been to the shoreline, creeks, or out on the Bay has seen it—accumulating trash piles that return again and again despite repeated cleanup efforts. And it’s mostly coming from city streets and storm drains and ending up in the water.

Plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cigarette butts, and thousands of other items end up in the water, where they’re not only an eyesore, but also harm birds, fish, and other wildlife that confuse the garbage for food. Plus, over time all plastics break down into microplastics that make their way into our drinking water and food supplies.

But city officials across the region have turned a blind eye to the problem – repeatedly failing to implement the needed infrastructure to stop waves of garbage from polluting our waters.

It’s clear that Bay Area cities can and should do a better job keeping the Bay’s shoreline, local communities, and waters clean. That’s why we’re asking for you to sign on to support our efforts fighting for a healthy, trash-free Bay!

Learn more about our Work

Metal shavings embedded in the shoreline
Hiding in Plain Sight