Daily Video

October 9, 2008

Storm Runoff Pollutes Our Water

More than 35 years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act mandating that all waters in the United States be both fishable and swimmable, this goal has yet to be met.

Scientists say that storm water runoff can cause large amounts of pollution in the water of large urban communities, accounting for 70% of the high toxic levels in Seattle, Washington. Now a new ruling by the State’s Pollution Board requires communities to reduce the flow of runoff pollution.

While some developers see this as an opportunity to accelerate “green” city planning, others worry that this will put an unfair amount of reasonability on builders.


“When Congress adopted the Clean Water Act in 1972, it set a very ambitious goal of having all of America’s waters fishable and swimmable. We’re nowhere near that. We don’t build houses in a way that protects clean water. It’s a system that doesn’t work.” Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice

“When we’re selling a home, we are competing with homes that have been built 10, 20, 30 years ago. And if we have various techniques that are, quote, “more green,” but the consumer says, “Yes, but, by the way, that rain channel in my backyard reduces the size of my lot by 10 or 20 feet in depth. I want the larger lot.” Eric Campbell, Real Estate Developer

“It’s a very significant policy question of how far and how extensive the use of the Clean Water Act is used to go after water quality problems.” Bill Moore, Washington State Department of Ecology

Warm Up Questions

1. What happens to excess water when it rains really hard? Why might it pollute?

2. Can you name rivers, lakes or streams in your area? Can you swim in them? Would you drink from them?

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think that the Clean Water Act should be able to dictate building codes? Why or why not?

2. Do you think the other 49 states should adopt this interpretation of the Clean Water Act?

3. Imagine you are a developer in Seattle, can you think of inventive ways to reduce runoff? Do you think you would want to live in a house or community like that?

4. What kinds of science would you need to study to figure out answers to these problems? Is this a career you might want to pursue?

5. Who makes environmental policy decisions? Is that a career you might want to pursue?

Additional Resources

Transcript of this report

Environmental concerns drive products

NYTimes: When runoff goes untreated

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