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Stormwater 101

  • What is stormwater runoff?

    Impervious surfaces are areas covered by buildings, asphalt, concrete, or other materials that prevent water from seeping into the ground.  When it rains, much of the water flows to streams and lakes, becoming stormwater runoff.  

    The more buildings, streets, and parking lots we build, the more surface stormwater runoff is generated during each rainstorm.

  • What is stormwater pollution?

    As the stormwater runs off, it collects/picks up pollutants such as oil, trash, lawn debris, fertilizers and pesticides.  As the amount of pollutants in the runoff increases, it is called stormwater pollution.

  • Why is stormwater pollution a problem that we should be concerned about?

    The replacement of vegetation with concrete and asphalt reduced the ability of the land to cleanse or remove pollutants from the water as it travels through the areas that drain to our lakes.  

    Without the benefit of treatment that comes with the natural sheetflow of water over native soils and vegetation, the pollutants contained in the stormwater runoff are discharges into our lakes, streams, wetlands, and underground aquifer.  

    Stormwater runoff is a significant source of pollution that can harm aquatic life and even contaminate the groundwater drinking supply. Depending on the type of pollutant and the land use, pollutant concentrations in the runoff from developed areas are often 10 to 100 (or more) times higher than runoff from undeveloped land.

    Stormwater runoff is now considered the greatest source of pollutant loading to Florida’s lakes, rivers and estuaries.

  • How can stormwater pollution be prevented?

    Best Management Practices

    Ways that we can help clean up stormwater runoff is to direct it through stormwater ponds, treatment wetlands, and other types of systems knows as Best Management Practices (BMPs).  Pollutants may either settle out, be filtered through the pond bottom, or be taken up by the wetland plants that surround these ponds. 

    Pollution Control Devices

    Additionally, stormwater runoff can be enhanced by retrofitting existing stormwater structures with devices that act as filters to stop trash, leaves, sediment, and debris from entering the lakes.  

    For example, a curb inlet basket can be installed in existing stormwater inlets.  One basket can collect over 200 pounds of leaves, sediment, and trash every year!

  • What do the storm drains flow into?

    Many are unaware that all of the storm drains in the City of Lakeland discharge to one of our lakes, wetlands, streams, canals, or stormwater ponds. Therefore, anything that goes into the storm drain will end up in a lake.

  • What problems are caused by stormwater pollution?
    1. Pollution - As stormwater runs-off of 'impervious' surfaces (e.g. building/house rooftops, streets, parking lots, and driveways) it picks up contaminants and debris such as oil, grease, fertilizers, pesticides, litter, leaves and grass clippings. This stormwater runs through the miles of ditches and underground pipes that all lead to our lakes, streams and wetlands.  There it deposits the pollution that eventually will make its way to the underground aquifer, where our drinking water comes from. We need better pollution control and stormwater treatment to reduce this contamination.

    2. Runoff - Heavy rains cause flooding in some areas of Lakeland.  The combination of flat terrain and limited natural or man-made stormwater drainage systems results in flooded streets, yards, and occasionally a home or business.  The City has worked hard to solve this problem, but there are areas yet to be addressed.


    The Stormwater Utility provides the funding necessary for a long-term commitment to improving water quality in Lakeland's lakes.  A 20-year comprehensive lake management plan was completed in 1996.  The planning document identified a program for maintaining our stormwater infrastructure, providing for stormwater treatment and restoring our lakes.

  • What is a watershed?

    A watershed is an area of land that stormwater flows across as it moves toward a common body of water, such as a lake, stream, river, or coastline. 

  • How can you help protect our watersheds?

    By following these five simple steps, you can help improve the health of Florida’s watersheds now and for future generations:

    1. Use Fertilizers and Pesticides Sparingly: A Florida-friendly landscape minimizes the need for fertilizer and pesticides which protects the environment and saves money.  Applying more fertilizer that your yard can use allows excess nutrients to be transported by runoff.  This may cause algal blooms and lower the oxygen levels in the water bodies disrupting the natural balance within the watershed.  Toxins from the pesticides may kill beneficial organisms within the watershed. 

    2. Conserve Water: Use Florida-friendly landscaping to save water. Overwatering can damage lawns and plants.  In addition, excess water use stresses our water supply. 

    3. Have Septic Systems Inspected Regularly. Leaking septic systems may contaminate the water, making it harmful to plants, animals, and people.  Septic tanks should be inspected every two to three years pumped as needed. 

    4. Never Pump Anything Down a Storm Drain. Storm drains help prevent flooding streets and highways by quickly and efficiently transferring rainwater into nearby water bodies.  Chemicals and other toxins dumped in storm drains find their way into lakes, rivers and streams, polluting the watershed. 

    5. Pick Up After Pets. In high “pet traffic” areas near water bodies, bacteria from pet waste can be carried into water bodies harming fish and other animals.