UI Storm Water Management Summary

Storm water is the water runoff from storms, snow melt, and surface drainage. This storm water runs into either storm drains or natural waterways. A storm water permit is required to authorize discharging the flow of storm water into rivers, streams, or other water bodies. 

Storm water is not treated or filtered prior to being discharged into rivers or streams. Therefore, the owner of the storm sewer system is required to take certain measures to minimize the contamination of the storm water prior to discharging it into water bodies. Because this water is not treated before being returned to natural waterways it is very important that storm water drains be kept free of illicit materials.

A storm water permit is issued by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to give the permitee a guideline of what is required for storm water drainage into state waterways. The Clean Water Act requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to be able to discharge storm water from the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) in to waterways. The complete program The University of Iowa is required to maintain for this permit is called a Storm water Phase II Program. This program uses several techniques to reduce the amount of pollutants discharged, protect water quality, and satisfy water quality requirements of the Clean Water Act. These techniques consist of a public education and outreach program, public participation, illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction site runoff control, post-construction runoff control, and pollution prevention by using good housekeeping practices. These techniques are outlined below.

Storm Water Program Techniques

Storm water management sign that reads "No dumping/Drains to river" with an image of a green fish at the center

A public education and outreach program is needed to give the public a better understanding of the public's personal responsibilities to maintain a clean environment.

Responsibilities include taking steps to reduce the pollutants in storm water, understanding the impact of storm water on water quality, and reporting any illicit materials in storm water drainage by phone or mail. Storm water drains are marked with the stickers shown to the left.

Public participation is key to this program. To include the public we will be having publicly held meetings to get input and suggestions about how the program is running and to give out information on new developments in the program. 

There are many ways that people can reduce the amount of pollutants in storm water, by being aware of illicit materials that are being put in to storm sewers and being up to date on present storm water activities. Illicit materials are any substances that are not storm water or pure water. Anyone may report any illicit discharge by calling one of the contact phone numbers on the Contacts Page or by filling out a report form.

An illicit discharge is defined as any discharge to an MS4 that is not composed entirely of storm water. Illicit discharges can come from damaged drain systems, pollution, direct intentful connections to storm water drains that do not discharge storm water, or purposeful dumping of illicit materials into storm water drains.

To detect illicit materials, inspections of the outfalls where storm water is drained into waterways are carried out. Samples are taken, public inquiries are investigated, and pictures of outfalls will be taken. Also, any priority areas that have a likelihood of having connections that discharge illicit materials will be identified and monitored.

Once a problem has been identified the source of the illicit material will be identified and the offender will be notified and directed to disconnect the illicit connection. If the offender does not take immediate action to correct the problem, then legal actions will be taken. All actions will be documented and reported in the annual storm water report.

Construction activities that result in a land disturbance of greater than or equal to one acre are required to have an operator implement an MS4 program to reduce the amount of pollutants in storm water runoff from the construction site. The program must include an ordinance requiring the implementation of proper erosion and sediment controls, a site plan review of potential water quality impacts, site inspections, and sanctions to ensure compliance.

Post-construction runoff controls have shown to be the most cost-effective approach to storm water quality management. Post-construction sediment is easily washed away in water flows into storm water drains. Sediments like oil, grease, pesticides, heavy metals, nitrogen, and phosphorus can be left unchecked when a working crew leaves a construction site. Also, water flows in streams and rivers can be severely altered because new buildings and parking lots add drainage to storm water sewers and transfer the water to waterways instead of allowing the water to be absorbed by the ground, plant life, and wildlife. Post-construction runoff controls consist of inspecting completed construction sites, tracking storm water and waterways connected to newly constructed sites, and ordinances requiring post-construction runoff controls.

An operation and maintenance program that strictly outlines the procedures and requirements for the MS4 has been put together to help train employees on pollution prevention and good housekeeping practices. Best management practices and measurable goals for the program will also be included in the procedures and requirements.

The University of Iowa's storm water permit covers all 1,968 acres of the campus. To monitor the quality of water discharged into waterways, sampling of water discharge, tracking of water flow, and annual inspections of all outfalls into waterways will be done. MS4 permits are already in force in several other large local municipalities and you can review their programs by visiting their site from the links located at the bottom of the page. For information on how to contact the Facilities Management water plant concerning storm water, view contacts at the bottom of the page.

Storm Water FAQs

Storm water runoff is rainfall or snow melt that runs off impervious surfaces like roads, buildings, and compacted soils. Storm water runoff is collected and conveyed through storm sewers directly into streams, rivers, and lakes without being treated.

Water from rain and melting snow either seeps into the ground or “runs off” to lower areas, making its way into streams, lakes and other water bodies. On its way, runoff water can pick up and carry many substances that pollute water. Some  - 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 in sufficient quantities. In addition to rain and snow melt, various human activities like watering, car washing, and malfunctioning septic tank can also put water onto the land surface. Here, it can also create runoff that carries pollutants to creeks, rivers and lakes.  Polluted runoff generally happens anywhere people use or alter the land. For example, in developed areas, none of the water that falls on hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, parking lots or roads can seep into the ground. These impervious surfaces create large amounts of runoff that picks up pollutants. The runoff flows from gutters and storm drains to streams. Runoff not only pollutes' but erodes stream banks. The mix of pollution and eroded dirt muddies the water and causes problems downstream.

Polluted water 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 water hurts the wildlife in creeks, streams, rivers and lakes. Dirt from erosion, also called sediment, covers up fish habitats and fertilizers can cause too much algae to grow, which also hurts wildlife by using up the oxygen they need to survive. Soaps hurt fish gills and fish skin, and other chemicals damage plants and animals when they enter the water. The quantity of storm water is also a problem. When storm water falls on impervious surfaces like roads, roofs, driveways and parking lots, it cannot seep into the ground, so it runs off to lower areas. To give you an idea of the difference an impervious surface makes, consider the difference between one inch of rain falling onto a meadow and a parking lot. The parking lot sheds 16 times the amount of water that a meadow does! Because more water runs off impervious surfaces, developed areas can experience local flooding. The high volume of water also causes streams banks to erode and washes away wildlife habitat downstream.

“Best management practices” is a term used to describe different ways to keep pollutants out of runoff and to slow down high volumes of runoff.   Preventing pollution from entering water is much more affordable than cleaning polluted water.  Educating state residents about how to prevent pollution from entering waterways is one best management practice. Laws that require people and businesses involved in earth disturbing activities --like construction and agriculture -- to take steps to prevent erosion are another way to prevent storm water pollution. There are also laws about litter, cleaning up after pets and dumping oil or other substances into storm drains. Education and laws are just two best management practice examples. Some BMPs are constructed to protect a certain area. Some are designed to slow down storm water, others help reduce the pollutants already in it – there are also BMPs that do both of these things. Detention ponds, built to temporarily hold water so it seeps away slowly, fill up quickly after a rainstorm and allow solids like sediment and litter to settle at the pond bottom. Then, they release the water slowly. These ponds are one constructed BMP example. Green roofs, storm drain grates, vegetated filter strips, and permeable paving are other examples.

The federal Clean Water Act requires large and medium sized towns across the United States to take steps to reduce polluted storm water runoff. The law was applied in two phases. The first phase addressed large cities. The second phase, often referred to as ”Phase II,” requires medium and small cities, fast growing cities, universities and those located near sensitive waters to take steps to reduce storm water.

These laws require chosen cities to do six things:

1) Conduct outreach and education about polluted storm water runoff.

2) Provide opportunities for residents to participate and be involved in conversations and activities related to reducing polluted storm water runoff.

3) Detect illicit discharges (e.g. straight piping or dumping).

4) Control construction site runoff.

5) Control post-construction runoff.

6) Pollution Prevention / Good Housekeeping (e.g. educational program for staff, operation & maintenance, spill response & prevention.)

Streams and creeks feed into rivers, lakes and the ocean. 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 home flooded by storm water runoff. When we pollute our water, everyone is affected!

If you own a car, maintain it so it does not leak oil or other fluids. Be sure to wash it on the grass or at a car wash so the dirt and soap do not flow down the driveway and into the nearest storm drain. If you own a yard, do not 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 and place leaves in the yard at the curb, not in 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, 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. Don’t litter.

Participate in the next stream cleanup in your area. Storm drain stenciling 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 storm water violations when you spot them to your local government. Keep learning about polluted storm water runoff and tell a friend!

The University of Iowa's storm water permit covers all 1,968 acres of the campus. To monitor the quality of water discharged into waterways, sampling of water discharge, tracking of water flow, and annual inspections of all outfalls into waterways will be done.

Contact Us

For more storm water ​​​​​​information, contact:

Darice K. Baxter

Environmental Specialist, CISEC, ICCSPPI 


Jenna Wischmeyer 

Environmental Compliance Director


Report a Storm Water Concern

Use our reporting form to address concerns about how our campus community manages storm water and/or storm water issues. This report will be sent to the University of Iowa’s Storm Water Management Team to investigate the concern.

Report a Concern