Polluted Runoff

Runoff from rain in cities, towns and rural areas picks up contaminants, making it a major source of pollution in the Salish Sea.

A top urban waterway polluter 

Most pollution in water originates on land, and much of it comes from polluted rain runoff (also called stormwater). Every time it rains or snows, water picks up toxic substances from rooftops, roads, construction sites, lawns, trash, and more — and because storm drains don’t flow into any treatment facility, it all goes into the nearest stream or directly into the Salish Sea.

75 percent of toxic chemicals entering the Puget Sound come via roads, driveways, rooftops, yards and other developed land. Wherever water isn’t naturally filtered by vegetation and undeveloped land, it flows unimpeded into the waterways we fish in, drink from, and swim in. Even chemicals banned decades ago still show up in breastmilk, waterways, and wildlife, especially salmon and endangered orcas, through this process of toxic runoff making its way into waterways.

Stormwater also has a big impact on the drinking water source of over 100,000 Whatcom County residents, Lake Whatcom, making water treatment more costly and contain unhealthier byproducts for people to drink. Excess nutrients (especially phosphorus) from fertilizers, septic systems, land development, and pet waste causes unchecked algae growth — which depletes oxygen in the water so fish cannot breathe, and creates the need for costly water treatment systems. Learn more about Lake Whatcom and our work to protect it.

Our work

We provide workshops, educational materials, and in-class K-12 grade school programs about polluted runoff and how to prevent it. Check out the Downloads tab for some great resources, and remember — Don’t Drip and Drive! Check your car for oil leaks regularly.

RE Sources also advocates for protecting Lake Whatcom’s drinking water quality, and keeping water treatment as inexpensive and chemical-free as possible. In 2019, our community and RE Sources urged Whatcom County to create a dedicated funding source for combating pollution in Lake Whatcom. Though this was a great step, there’s more to do. We plan to help further reduce phosphorus pollution, logging pollution, and fossil fuel-derived contamination in our drinking water going forward. Sign up here and get action alerts and resources about protecting drinking water and more delivered to your inbox.

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Our North Sound Waterkeeper team digs into cleanup plans for contaminated sites listed under the state Model Toxics Control Act — of which there are 12 in Bellingham Bay — to check for plans to prevent polluted runoff from re-contaminating a cleaned-up site. We track permits that allow for some stormwater pollution make sure they aren’t being exceeded. We also conduct regular patrols on public waterways and roads to look for pollution and catch it early on.


How can I prevent stormwater pollution?
  1. Limit the amount of fertilizer and pesticides you use on your lawn and garden, or choose organic methods.
  2. Instead of washing your car in your driveway, take it to a commercial car wash.
  3. Consider how you can reduce runoff from your property. Resources for low-impact landscaping can be found on the City of Bellingham’s webpage.
  4. Keep your car well maintained and fix leaks. You can also challenge yourself to replace a portion of your driving with biking, walking, or using public transportation.
  5. Pick up pet waste (even if it’s not from your pet).
  6. Join us as conscious observers and report pollution in your community. Use the Water Reporter app to document and report pollution or call the Pollution Prevention hotline: (360) 220-0556. Read more about how to spot and report pollution!

Take Action

Be a part of changing the world


You can make sure only rain goes down the drain! Use the Water Reporter app

Potential sources of pollution aren’t always obvious. Is something on the ground near water that seems like it shouldn’t be? Is something other than water making its way down a storm drain? Even if you aren’t sure, you can post a photo of anything that seems like it shouldn’t be going into our waterways! Learn more about how the app works and download our guide for spotting pollution — anytime, anywhere. Download the Water Reporter app on Android or iOS.

Download the guide

Make your home, garden, farm, or workplace water-friendly