Stormwater Utility Frequently Asked Questions
What is polluted runoff?

Water from rain and melting snow either soaks into the ground or “runs off” to lower areas, flowing into gutters and storm drains and then to streams, lakes and Puget Sound.  On its way, runoff water, or stormwater, can pick up and carry substances that pollute water.

Some substances - like pesticides, fertilizers, oil and soap – are harmful in any quantity.  Others – like sediment from construction, bare soil, or agricultural land, or pet waste, grass clippings and leaves – can harm creeks, rivers and lakes when present in sufficient quantities.

Polluted runoff generally happens anywhere people have altered the land.  In developed areas, rain and snow that falls on hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, parking lots or roads doesn’t soak into the ground.  The rain and snowmelt flows over these hard surfaces and pick up pollutants, flows to gutters and storm drains, and then is discharged untreated to local water bodies.  The higher volumes of the polluted runoff can erode stream banks, mobilizing additional dirt.  This mix of polluted runoff and eroded dirt further muddies the water and causes problems downstream.

What is nonpoint source pollution?

Nonpoint source pollution is another term for polluted runoff that doesn’t have a distinct source.  It’s pollution that results from our everyday activities; oil and metal particles from cars; dirt and chemicals from yards; and bacteria from pet waste.  The term “nonpoint source pollution” comes from the federal Clean Water Act of 1987, written to expand our fight to improve water quality in our local water bodies.  The Clean Water Act of 1972 was adopted to control pollution from point sources – well defined sources of pollution such as waste water treatment plants and oil refinery discharges.  Because of its’ diverse nature, nonpoint source pollution is a very difficult problem to solve, and is the biggest source of pollution to our waterways.

What causes polluted stormwater runoff?

Polluted stormwater runoff generally happens anywhere people use or alter the land.  People going about their daily lives are the number one source of stormwater pollutants, including littering, over-use of fertilizers and pesticides in lawns and gardens, not picking up pet waste, using salt or fertilizer to de-ice driveways, and letting oil or other fluids drip out of their vehicles.

Why do we need to manage stormwater and polluted runoff?

Polluted stormwater runoff is the number one cause of water pollution in Washington.  In Edmonds, stormwater does not receive treatment before it enters our waterways.

Polluted stormwater runoff creates numerous costs to the public and to wildlife. As the saying goes, “we all live downstream.”  Communities that use surface water for their drinking supply must pay much more to clean up polluted water than clean water.

Polluted runoff impacts the wildlife in creeks, lakes, and Puget Sound.  Dirt from erosion can cover up fish habitat and impact aquatic insect populations (fish food!).  Fertilizers can cause increased algae growth in surface waters, and when the algae die and decompose deprive fish of the oxygen they need to survive.  Even biodegradable soap can hurt fish gills and fish skin; and of course pesticides and herbicides can damage plants and animals that live in these water bodies.

The quantity of stormwater is also a problem.  When stormwater falls on hard surfaces like roads, roofs, driveways and parking lots, it can’t soak into the ground, so it runs off to lower areas, causing erosion and flooding.  Consider the difference between one inch of rain falling onto a meadow and one inch of rain falling on a parking lot.  The parking lot sheds 16 times the amount of water that a meadow does! 

Where does stormwater runoff in Edmonds go?

In Edmonds, runoff from streets and parking lots is collected in a system of catch basins, ditches, pipes, and other structures, and which then discharges untreated into our streams, lakes and wetlands, which then flows to either Puget Sound or Lake Ballinger.  Stormwater runoff does not go to the wastewater treatment plant!  Although our City crews perform maintenance and repairs to the entire system to reduce flooding, improve water quality and preserve the environment, we can still do more.

How is stormwater runoff “managed”?

“Best management practices”, or BMPs, is a term used to describe different ways to keep pollutants out of stormwater runoff and to decrease the high volumes of runoff.  These BMPs include laws regarding discharges to the City’s stormwater system, education and outreach to bring about behavior change, and constructed systems that are installed to detain and/or treat stormwater.

Preventing pollution from entering surface water is much more affordable than cleaning polluted water! Educating residents about how to prevent pollution from entering waterways is one best management practice.  Laws that require construction and farming business owners to take steps to prevent erosion are another way to prevent stormwater pollution.  There are also laws about litter, cleaning up after pets and dumping oil or other substances into storm drains.

Some BMPs are constructed to manage stormwater runoff from a property or development.  Some are designed to detain and slowly release stormwater, others work to reduce the pollutants already in it, and some can do both.  For example, detention ponds are designed to temporarily hold stormwater, which allows the sediment and litter to settle out, slowly releasing the runoff.  Other examples of constructed stormwater BMPs include green roofs, storm drain control structures, filter strips, sediment fences and permeable paving.

If it only affects streams and creeks, why should I care?

Streams and creeks in the Edmonds area feed into lakes and Puget Sound. We all drink water, so we are all affected when our water is polluted. When water treatment costs rise, the price of drinking water goes up.  If you like to fish, swim or boat, you may have heard or been affected by advisories warning you not to swim, fish or boat in a certain area because of unhealthy water or too much algae.  Shellfish like clams and oysters cannot be harvested from polluted waters, so anyone that enjoys these foods or makes a living from the shellfish industry is affected.  Money made from tourism and water recreation can also be impacted, as are businesses and homes flooded by stormwater runoff. When we pollute our water, everyone is affected!

What can I do to reduce the stormwater pollution I contribute?

If you own a car, maintain it so it doesn’t leak oil or other fluids.  Be sure to wash your car on the grass so the dirt and soap don’t flow into the nearest storm drain.  Better yet, wash your car at a commercial car wash, where the wash water is recycled and eventually flows to a waste water treatment plant.

If you own a yard, follow application directions and don’t over fertilize your grass. Never apply fertilizers or pesticides before a heavy rain.  If fertilizer falls onto driveways or sidewalks, sweep it up instead of hosing it away.  Mulch leaves and grass clippings or build a compost bin – but ultimately keep the leaves and grass clipping off the street.  Doing this keeps leaves out of the gutter, where they can wash into the nearest storm drain.  Turn your gutter downspouts away from hard surfaces (let the water soak into the ground), seed bare spots in your yard to avoid erosion and consider building a rain garden in low-lying areas of your lawn

If you have a septic system, maintain it properly by having it pumped every three to five years.  If it is an older system, be sure it can still handle the volume placed on it today. Never put chemicals down septic systems, they can harm the system and seep into the groundwater.

Pet owners should pick up after their pets and dispose of pet waste in the garbage.

Keep lawn and household chemicals tightly sealed and in a place where rain cannot reach them.  Dispose of old or unwanted chemicals at household hazardous waste collections sites or events.

Never put anything in a storm drain other than rain – remember, Only Rain Down the Drain.

Don’t litter.

How else can I help reduce stormwater pollution in my area?

Participate in the next stream or beach cleanup in your area.  Storm drain marking events – where the destination of storm water is clearly marked on the drain – are a fun way to let your neighbors know the storm drain is only for rain.  Attend public hearings or meetings on the topic so you can express your concerns.  Report stormwater violations, illicit discharges or spills, to you’re the Illicit Discharge Hotline (425-771-0235).  Keep learning about polluted stormwater runoff and tell a friend!

Why all the recent fuss about stormwater?

The federal Clean Water Act requires municipalities (Cities and Counties) across the United States to take steps to reduce polluted stormwater runoff.  The Washington State Department of Ecology was given the regulatory authority over the Clean Water Act in Washington State.  Ecology uses a permit program, called NPDES, to hold municipalities responsible for discharges from their public stormwater systems.  The permit requirements describe actions that should be taken to reduce the quality and quantity of polluted stormwater that impacts water quality and aquatic organisms in local water bodies.  These permits are issued to each municipality on a five-year basis. 

What is NPDES?

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is a federal program established through the Clean Water Act that regulates stormwater and wastewater discharges to waters of the State.  While it’s a federal permit, the regulatory authority has been passed to the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The program was applied in two phases: Phase I includes counties and large cities, like Everett, Seattle, and Snohomish County; Phase II includes medium and small cities, such as Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Lynnwood.  In Washington State, Phase II laws took effect in 2005, and were implemented in the form of a five-year permit issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology in 2007.  A new permit was issued in 2013, which was more protective of surface water quality by requiring more work by each municipality to minimize the impacts of polluted stormwater runoff.   

What is NPDES Phase II Municipal Stormwater Permit?

A new NPDES Phase II Municipal Stormwater Permit for Western Washington was issued by the Ecology in August of 2012 and went into effect in August 2013. The permit requires that all affected municipalities create and implement a Stormwater Management Program which is required to contain five program elements:

1) Public Education and Outreach
2) Public Involvement and Participation
3) Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
4) Construction Site Run-Off
5) Operations and Maintenance of Post Construction Stormwater Facilities.

While the Permit went into effect in August of 2013, the permit itself phases program implementation requirements out over the next five years.

The City of Edmonds Public Works, Engineering Division is responsible for compliance with the State's Western Washington Phase II Municipal Stormwater Permit (NPDES) including review of new building or redevelopment projects for compliance with the Edmonds stormwater code, long range planning as it relates to the Edmonds stormwater code, and design and construction management of public storm system improvements.

Acknowledging growing concerns with stormwater in our daily lives, the City will complete the current Stormwater Management Program Plan document by March 31, 2014; however the next annual permit report is not required until March 31, 2015.  Because the new permit took effect in August of 2013, an annual report is not required in 2014. Both documents are normally updated annually to address additional phased permit requirements as they come into effect.  Should you have any questions about long range stormwater planning, NPDES compliance, or stormwater construction projects, please submit your questions and comments to:

City of Edmonds Engineering Division
121 5th Ave N
Edmonds, WA 98020
Or email to

What is stormwater?

Stormwater is generally rain and melting snow that runs off surfaces that cannot readily absorb water. These surfaces include rooftops, pavement, compacted gravel lots, and even frozen ground. As it flows towards receiving waters such as streams, lakes, rivers or infiltrates down into the aquifer it picks up pollutants. These pollutants are such things as sediments, airborne dust, pet waste, oil, grease, fertilizers, chemicals, litter and whatever else we have left on the ground or poured down our drains and grates that can be carried or dissolved in water. Stormwater pollution is caused by all of us. Some of it can be treated. Most of it must simply be prevented. 

What problems can stormwater cause?

Stormwater runoff can increase water pollution, erosion of creeks and streams, and localized flooding. These problems occur because we altered the land and changed the way that water moves through the landscape.

What causes flooding problems?

As Edmonds grows and we build more rooftops, driveways, streets and other hard or impervious surfaces, the land’s capacity to soak up and carry away excess water decreases.  As a result, conditions that might result in a flood once every 100 years in an undeveloped area can cause flooding every four or five years due to the increased coverage of  impervious surfaces. 

What causes pollution problems?

As water from rain and melting snow runs across these hard surfaces and over lawns and gardens they pick up pollutants such as sediments, pet waste, oil, grease, pesticides, and fertilizers. Stormwater carries these contaminants to our streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and our aquifer. More and dirtier stormwater runs off each year, but we have fewer and fewer options to deal with it. Since individual contributions to stormwater are small, it is hard to believe that we really impact the quality and quantity of stormwater entering our water systems. The cumulative and long-term effects have a substantial impact to the health of our waterways.

What can be done about the problems?

Fortunately, something can be done to keep stormwater flooding and pollution problems from becoming worse.

We can:

1. Manage stormwater to control flooding and erosion;
2. Plan and construct stormwater systems so contaminants are removed before they pollute our surface waters or our groundwater resources, acquire and protect natural waterways where they still exist or can be rehabilitated;
3. Look for opportunities to build "soft" structures such as ponds, swales or wetlands to work with existing or "hard" structures, such as pipes and concrete channels;
4. Revise current stormwater regulations to address our comprehensive stormwater needs;
5. Enhance and enforce existing ordinances to make sure property owners consider the effects of stormwater before, during and after development of their land;
6. Educate ourselves about how our actions affect the quality of our water, and about what we can do to improve water quality; and
7. Plan carefully to create solutions before problems become too great.

What's being done now?

The overall goal for the City of Edmonds’ Stormwater Program is to not only meet the requirements of the municipal stormwater permit administered by the Department of Ecology, but also to ensure that our program addresses residents’ concerns.  Edmonds Public Works and Engineering staff have been working with other jurisdictions around the Puget Sound through several regional forums in a collaborative effort to share resources, tools, and methodologies to meet Ecology’s requirements.  While the Stormwater Management Program Plan will be updated and expanded annually, this document will primarily include descriptions of our existing programs and our plan to update these programs to meet the requirements of the Permit.

Long Range Planning

We are taking a detailed look at our watersheds to determine the best way to manage stormwater from existing and future development.  Long range planning will enable us to make better choices about how to plan for, maintain, and construct our drainage systems so they can better meet the community’s many needs.


We are improving the way we maintain ponds, swales, catch basins, drywells, ditches and culverts.  We are mapping the location of each stormwater facility, monitoring their condition and tracking the time it takes to maintain them.  This will help us determine which components are working well, which ones aren’t and which ones we need to replace immediately to save money.

Responding to Maintenance Complaints and Concerns

When you have a stormwater maintenance concern in your neighborhood, call the stormwater utility to let us know and find out what can be done.  We use your calls to help us prioritize our next projects.  Call 425.771.0235 or email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Public Involvement and Awareness – The City Wants Your Participation

We are informing the public about drainage systems, how they function and how to take care of them. This will help reduce threats to water quality and prevent flooding problems.   We need your help in developing and implementing this program for the City.  Opportunities for you to participate include attending public hearings, working as a citizen volunteer to educate other individuals about the program, assisting in program coordination with other pre-existing programs, or participating in volunteer monitoring efforts.  Please contact us:

City of Edmonds Engineering Division
121 5th Ave N
Edmonds, WA 98020
Or email to

Contact Stormwater NPDES

Long Range Planning
Stormwater Construction Projects
Zachary Richardson, P.E.
Stormwater Engineer
(425) 771-0220, x1323

NPDES Compliance
Stormwater Outreach & Education
Stormwater Facility Inspections
Patrick Johnson
Stormwater Technician
(425) 771-0220, x1322 

Public Works Engineering Division
City Hall - Second Floor
121 5th Ave N
Edmonds, WA 98020

Phone: (425) 771-0220
Fax: (425) 672-5750

Public Hours:
8:00am to 4:30pm - M, T, Th, F
Wed 8:30am to Noon

Closed Weekends and Holidays

Engineering Capital Project Staff
Engineering Development Staff