Stormwater Pollution - What happens when it rains at UMass Lowell?

When rain hits the ground, water that does not infiltrate into the ground flows into storm drains and eventually ends up in the Merrimack River.

As properties in urban settings, like the University, are developed, more of the natural ground surface is changed to hard or paved surfaces, such as roads, parking lots and buildings. This reduces the amount of stormwater infiltrating into the ground and causes more stormwater to flow into the rivers. Unless properly managed, this increased stormwater runoff creates flooding, erosion and water quality problems.

Why is stormwater runoff pollution a problem?

Many people do not realize that the University’s storm drainage system discharges to the Merrimack River. Stormwater flowing through storm drains is not treated for pollutants before it reaches the Merrimack River. Additionally, portions of the University’s older storm drainage system are still tied to the sanitary sewer system (serving as a combined sewer system). These combined systems can cause problems to surface waters when combined sewer overflows (CSOs) occur.

The Merrimack River is included on the Massachusetts 303(d) list of impaired water bodies. The river segment from the state line at Hudson, N.H., to the Pawtucket Dam in Lowell, Mass., is listed for metals and pathogens; and the river segment from the Pawtucket Dam in Lowell to Duck Island in Lowell is listed for nutrients, metals, pathogens and flow alterations.

What causes stormwater runoff pollution?

As stormwater flows through the University’s storm drainage pipes, the water can pick up various pollutants, such as:

  • Motor oil, gasoline and chemicals in parking lots and streets.
  • Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on University lawns, parks and residential areas.
  • Paint, cleaners and household hazardous waste that may be poured into storm drains.
  • Mud and debris from construction sites, stream bank erosion and other bare areas.
  • Trash, litter and solid waste dropped on ground or dumped in storm drains.

Why is the University addressing stormwater runoff?

Through the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) regulates stormwater runoff. USEPA stormwater regulations require UMass Lowell to apply for and acquire a permit to manage stormwater runoff.

What is the University doing?

University staff prepared a Stormwater Management Program (SWMP) plan to address the stormwater regulations. Once the new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Phase II General Permit is finalized, the University will be required to apply for the permit. UMass Lowell has already implemented various best management practices (BMPs) to reduce the potential for stormwater pollution and to the quality of stormwater runoff from UMass Lowell campuses. For example, UMass Lowell conducts annual parking lot sweeping and catch basin cleaning, has initiated several stormwater improvement projects and is also initiating several public involvement and outreach projects, such as the catch basin stenciling/marking project for University students and faculty volunteers.

What can you do to help?

Everyone contributes to the problem. And everyone can help to reduce pollutants washed into University storm drains by stormwater runoff. Here are some simple steps that you can take to reduce stormwater pollution:

  • Never pour chemicals, including soap, motor oil, antifreeze and cleaners on the ground or into storm drains.
  • Properly dispose of all solid waste, trash and recyclable materials in designated and covered dumpsters and bins.
  • Keep your car regularly tuned up to prevent fluids from leaking onto the ground.
  • Do not litter or place trash or debris on the ground or in storm drains.

You can also help UMass Lowell maintain the storm drainage system by calling the Facilities Service Desk at 978-934-2601 to report drainage problems such as:

  • Clogged storm drains or ditches, which may cause flooding problems.
  • Excessive litter or trash found in storm drainage system.

Contact Environmental Health and Safety at 978-934-2618 for potential stormwater pollution issues, such as:

  • Illegally dumped chemicals, batteries or debris in storm drainage system.
  • Sanitary sewer pipes or car washing activities that discharge to storm drains or ditches.
  • Heavy sediments from construction sites or bare land flowing into storm system.