Stormwater as an Issue

The Stormwater Advisory Committee would like to draw your attention to stormwater management in Watertown.

Is there a problem?

The Charles River is a key asset to our community life, along with other water assets, such as Sawins and Williams Ponds. For the Charles and the ponds, polluted stormwater is a major, ongoing cause of contamination.

Stormwater comes from rainfall and snow melt -- they sound so pure, don't they? But in a town like Watertown, not enough stormwater soaks into the ground, which would filter and clean the water. Instead, most of it flows across roofs, streets, and parking lots, and all along the way it washes litter, spills, dirt, and chemicals into our storm drains, which dump it straight into our ponds and the Charles River -- unfiltered.

That's the problem. We have too much pollution flowing through the storm drains so that levels of bacteria pollution are still too high in some outfalls. And the stormwater regulations we have to comply with are becoming more stringent.

We aren't alone. Cities and towns everywhere are facing this issue. While many major sources of water pollution have been reduced (such as untreated discharges from factories), stormwater management has lagged behind so that now it's one of the last remaining major problems.


Our Comprehensive Plan calls for better stormwater management, and Watertown is putting Stormwater Ordinances into effect to guide the efforts of town staff, residents, developers, and local businesses.

  • Create more chances for stormwater to filter into the ground. Plan for this in all new construction, road work, and renovations on existing sites. It’s much more expensive to fix sites later than to plan stormwater management right into the design up front.
  • At the same time, reduce and clean up pollutants from our yards, parking lots, and streets, so they’re not picked up by stormwater. Sometimes pollutants gather in the drains until a big rain flushes the pipes out and into the Charles.

It's up to us

Every one of us can reduce runoff and pollutants. Remember, everything that goes into the storm drains goes into the ponds and the Charles.

  • Never dump anything down storm drains, including cleaning solutions, painting wastes, etc.
  • Especially, never pour oil, paint thinners, and other toxic wastes down any drains or onto the ground -- call the Watertown Health Department (617-972-6446) and register to dispose of such waste at the Minuteman Hazardous Products Regional Facility.
  • Clean up street litter that could make its way into storm drains.
  • Report any dumping or erosion to the Department of Public Works at 617-972-6420 or through the online Contact Us form.
  • Never blow mowed grass and leaves onto the street. Please!
  • Walk your dog in grassy areas, and always pick up after your pet.
  • Check your car for leaks and recycle your motor oil.
  • Take your car to a car wash, or wash it on the grass instead of washing it on the street or your driveway.
  • Compost your yard waste and minimize fertilizer use -- if you must use fertilizer, choose one with less than 0.67% available phosphate content by weight.
  • Plant vegetation in the bare spots in your yard to prevent erosion and increase absorption.
  • Avoid using bark mulch near the street -- rain can sweep it into drains and block them.
  • Direct downspouts away from paved surfaces and toward vegetated areas or rain barrels -- consider a rain garden to absorb runoff.
  • Minimize paved areas in your yard -- if you must pave, consider materials that allow rain to soak through (permeable asphalt, pavers, gravel, etc.).