Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)

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Storm water is rain or snow melt which has run off the land including hard, “impervious” surfaces like roads, roofs and car parks. Traditionally storm water has been piped away from these hard surfaces and discharged untreated into the nearest waterway (e.g. - stream, beach, harbor, and wetland). Early studies of urban storm runoff on State waters showed a negative correlation with the amount of impervious surface and urbanization to health and biodiversity of the waterways. Storm water runoff is a major source of pollution and we are beginning to take the necessary preventative steps to minimize its effects.

Our modern lifestyles are a major contributor to storm water pollution, delegating the responsibilities associated with managing storm water to both a regional and individual level. There is no simple solution. But by reducing or eliminating the amount of pollutants allowed to be washed away, we can limit the detrimental effects associated with storm water runoff; helping ensure a pristine and viable environment for generations to come.

Storm Water Pollution Prevention:

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is a Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) with a discharge permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in January 2006. The permit requires a program with six Minimum Control Measures (MCMs), Best Management Practices (BMPs) for each MCM, and Measurable Goals for each BMP. The University’s Storm Water Management Program Plan describes the MCMs, BMPs, measurable goals, target dates, and our program rationale. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's first Storm Water Management Program Plan (SWMPP) was completed in May 2008.

The six minimum control measures are:

  1. Public Education and Outreach on Storm Water Impacts
  2. Public Involvement
  3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  4. Construction Site Storm Water Runoff Control
  5. Post-Construction Storm Water Management
  6. Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations

Our current SWMPP is available for viewing or downloading from this website.

For program information, to report illegal dumping activity, if you have any suggestions, or want to help with the storm water pollution prevention program email Environmental Health and Safety, or call 608.785.6800.  

One of the greatest things you can do is to educate others about storm water pollution prevention!

Storm Water Fact Sheet

What is storm water?

Storm water is any precipitation that falls during any storm event. Complications arise when this rainwater collects oils, grease, fertilizers, pesticides, trash, and other debris as it travels along engineered and natural conveyances, eventually ending up in waters of the state. This addition of polluted water to streams has detrimental effects on the flora and fauna associated with them; not to mention our enjoyment of the serene beauty a stream ecosystem provides.

What is the difference between a sewer and storm drain?

The main difference between sanitary sewer drains and storm drains is that the contents of the sanitary sewer drain go through various treatment processes at a wastewater treatment facility in order to meet state and federal regulations regarding the quality of water being released back into circulation. Storm drains on the other hand, act as channels to funnel rainwater away from urbanized areas quickly as possible to prevent flooding and deposits the untreated water into nearby waterways. The duration between rain events, the amount of vehicle traffic, the amount of impervious surfaces, and the quantity of various debris materials lying around is positively correlated to biological and physical stream degradation.

What is UWL doing to help reduce storm water pollution?

UWL recognizes that its daily operations may impact the health of our watershed, and has taken action to manage storm water runoff in order to minimize any adverse effects associated with its discharge. One such action taken by UWL has been to develop a Storm water Management Program Plan (SWMPP) in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s NPDES Phase II requirements which were interpreted for the state of Wisconsin by the WI Department of Natural Resources, 327IAC15-13. Outlined within this permit are six minimum control measures that act as guidelines for municipalities, universities, and correction institutions to follow to minimize the harmful effects of storm water runoff. The six minimum control measures are:

  • Public Education and Outreach
  • Public Participation and Involvement
  • Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  • Construction site Runoff Control
  • Post-Construction Runoff Control
  • Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping

The actual application outlining UWL's commitment under this regulation can be viewed at NPDES Phase II Storm water  Management Program Plan.

What types of pollutants contaminate storm water runoff?

Some common contaminates include: motor oil, pesticides, pet waste, paint, household chemicals, trash and construction debris. Rainwater comes in contact with these contaminates and washes them into the storm drain system. In addition, improper disposal of substances into the storm drain system, such as food waste, paint waste, construction material, oil, antifreeze and landscaping chemicals also cause contamination of storm water runoff.

What if there is a spill of hazardous materials?

In the event of a hazardous materials spill on campus, contact the UWL Police at 789.9999(Emergency) or 789.9000(non-emergency). If it is safe to do so, try to prevent spilled hazardous materials from entering storm drains.

How are hazardous materials disposed?

All hazardous materials waste generated from campus operations must be disposed of through the campus Hazardous Waste Program administered by the UWL Facilities Management Department.

What is an illicit discharge?

An illicit discharge is any discharge to the UWL storm water system that is not comprised of runoff from precipitation (rainfall or snowfall) events. Examples of illicit discharges are wash water from clothes washing, vehicle and equipment wash water, improper disposal of paint brush rinse water, sanitary sewage, and mop rinse water.

What is a BMP?

A BMP is a best management practice for managing or treating storm water runoff. BMPs can be structural, such as a constructed wetland or porous pavement parking lot, or non-structural. Examples of non-structural BMPs include properly disposing of used oil and paint, converting land cover types to increase the capture of runoff, application of fertilizers only when the need is indicated by soil testing, and proper disposal of pet waste.

Doing Your Part: Pollution Prevention

Environmental problems evolve slowly and tend to sneak up on us with damage usually being done before we realize anything is wrong.

It is hard for us to imagine that a drip of oil or a bit of dirt will harm our water supply, but even small amounts can pollute a vast amount of water. One quart of oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of water. Tasks you perform daily may have a potential impact on what is washed down the storm drain. Here are some things to watch for and incorporate into everyday assignments or procedures.

See our complete Pollution Prevention program here: Pollution Prevention Program

How can I help?

There are a few common guidelines you can follow that can greatly reduce the impact of storm water on our waterways:

  • Do Not Put Anything Down A Storm Drain! Remember, these drain directly into waterways without treatment.
  • Just because something is organic does not mean it is safe for the environment. Unnatural quantities of material like dirt, grass clippings and leaf litter can all cause adverse effects on stream integrity by changing the benthic substrate, reducing the amount of available light, and changing oxygen contents of the stream.
  • Wash your car at commercial carwashes or on grass with environmentally friendly detergent. Commercial carwash drainage goes into the local sewer system for treatment. Washing your car on the grass allows the water to percolate through the soil, taking advantage of nature’s own water treatment system.
  • Do not litter. Not only for the fact it reduces the aesthetic appeal of your surroundings which ultimately reflects upon you, it is harming organisms that can not do anything about it besides adapt or die.
  • Report any violations you see on campus to the University Office of Environmental, Health & Safety sweetman.dani@uwlax.edu or by calling 608.785.6800.
  • Volunteer your time with organizations dedicated to environmental issues
  • Fix faulty sprinkler systems and do not overwater lawns.
  • Properly dispose of chemicals, oil, paint, antifreeze and other toxic materials. Reuse and recycle where possible. Refer to Environmental Bulletins for information on proper recycling of hazardous materials.
  • Wash outdoor items with biodegradable soap or at a commercial car wash that filters and recycles wash and rinse water.
  • Use decorative rock and plants to reduce soil erosion in landscaped areas.
  • If you drive a car, keep your vehicles well maintained and fix leaks promptly.
  • Use a drip pan or absorbent materials like kitty litter to clean up spills and dispose of in the trash.
  • Have your vehicles serviced at a local auto repair shop for proper disposal of used oil and fluids.
  • If you service your own vehicle, collect and dispose of the fluids at a local household hazardous waste drop off station.
  • Always pick up garbage and trash and properly dispose of or recycle it.

Pet Waste

  • Pet waste not picked up in parks or lawns is a major source of harmful microbes (E. coli) and nutrients that break down with water contact and travel into storm drains. In as few as 2-3 days, the waste from four dogs in a one-sq. mile lake is enough to close it for swimming.
  • Regularly remove pet waste from your yard.
  • Use a plastic bag to pick up pet waste while walking your pet.
  • Properly dispose of pet waste: bag it and placing it in your household waste.

Preventing Spills

Taking a few simple precautions to prevent a spill will eliminate the headaches that come with cleaning up after one! Remain in attendance when tanks and open containers are being filled. Use secondary containers whenever carrying materials from one location to another. Use a funnel when transferring liquids from one container to another. Place trays under open containers and the spouts of liquid storage containers.

If improper dumping or discharge is observed on University property, immediately notify the University's Police at 608.789.9999(Emergency) or 608.789.9000(Non-emergency).

Training for Staff

Because many of the activities that protect water quality need to be performed continuously, employee education is key to any successful pollution prevention initiative. Staff education activities should include:

  • Train employees to routinely inspect equipment and activities for opportunities to prevent pollution.
  • Make water quality protection part of new employee training by assigning experienced workers to train new ones.
  • Conduct a routine walk-through of work areas to identify potential problems.
  • Review procedures once a year with employees. Incorporate this training with "worker right-to-know" training for hazardous materials or worker safety training programs.
  • Display signs describing water quality protection activities where employees and visitors will see them.

The best way you can help keep our waterways healthy and clean is by preventing pollutants from reaching them in the first place and by educating yourself and friends about the importance of storm water management. 

Illicit Discharge and Spill Reporting

If you see an illicit discharge or spill on campus please call:

  • 608.789.9999
  • 911 If the spill or activity represents and immediate threat to human health or environment.

If you observe a situation on campus that could likely cause a spill or discharge in the future, please contact Environmental Health and Safety or call 608.785.6800 during regular business hours. We appreciate your help with identifying problems that may impact the UW-La Crosse storm sewer system and surface waters. Calls can be made anonymously.

UWL's storm water discharge permit prohibits illicit discharges to the storm sewer system.

Illicit discharge is defined as any discharge to the municipal separate storm sewer system that is not composed entirely of storm water, except for discharges allowed under a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit or other discharges allowed locally. These non-storm water discharges may be due to illegal connections to the storm sewer system by commercial, industrial, or sometimes residential properties. The illegal connections allow contaminated wastewater to drain untreated to our waterways. Failing septic systems and illegal dumping are also illicit discharges.

It is important to note that there are many non-storm water discharges that are not considered illicit discharges. These include such discharges as water-line flushing, landscape irrigation, lawn watering, and water used for fire fighting.