Creek Care Tips

Winter rains can bring new life to streams and coastal habitats - or stormwater runoff can deliver load after load of pollution. Our creeks begin in our driveways and front yards. Rainfall and runoff from lawn watering carry pollutants from lawns, streets, sidewalks, roofs and parking lots straight to our creeks and oceans. Don't pollute a creek without intending to. Remember - only rain down the storm drain.

Only Rain Down the Storm Drain

Illustration by Susan Riedley

Vehicle Care

  • Just one quart of motor oil contaminates 250,000 gallons of water. If you change your motor oil at home, take the used oil to Coastside Scavenger Recycling on Palmetto Blvd or contact 1-800-CLEANUP to find a used oil collection center.
  • Promptly fix any oil leaks from your car, and keep your car tuned-up.
  • Don't drain your radiator onto your driveway or in the gutter. Antifreeze is highly poisonous.
  • Use a commercial car wash - preferably one that recycles water.
  • If you wash your car at home, wash it on gravel, grass or another permeable surface that will collect the soap. Use a hose nozzle that turns off automatically, and only use biodegradable soap.
  • Block off the storm drain during charity car wash events, or use an insert to catch wash water. Pump soapy water from car washes into a sanitary sewer drain. If this is not feasible, spread wash water onto grass or landscaping to provide filtration.
  • Businesses with their own vehicle washing facilities should incorporate Best Management Practices (BMP's) to control water quality impacts. Wash vehicles only in areas designed to collect and hold the wash and rinse water. Pressure cleaning and steam cleaning should be done off-site to avoid generating runoff with high pollutant concentrations. Map on-site storm drain locations to avoid discharges to the storm drain system, and immediately contain and treat spills.

Home Care and Construction

Plastic, aluminum cans and other recyclables last virtually forever. If they blow into the gutters, they wind up in the creek. Not only do they make for an ugly landscape, they also choke or strangle sea creatures, fish and birds.

  • Minimize your plastic and aluminum purchases (buy in bulk, select brands with minimal packaging) and dispose of recyclables carefully.
  • Cover outdoor trash cans securely to help keep storm drains clean and clear of debris.

Construction or remodeling waste can also alter the creek's health or its appearance.

  • Dispose of leftover paints and construction debris at a designated household toxic waste disposal site. For more information about where to dispose of specific materials, call the Household Hazard Waste Hotline at 650-363-4718. When you work with concrete, cement or mortar, prevent material from blowing or flowing to a driveway, street or drain. Never rinse out concrete mixing or paint containers on your driveway.

Cleanup efforts can send debris and pollutants to the creek.

  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway or patio. Dispose of leaves in the Green Waste bin, and spread any loose dirt in garden beds. If you must use a hose, use a nozzle that turns off when not in use.
  • Getting your deck, patio or outdoor furniture ready for another season? Remember that all types of soap are toxic to fish, and some cause ugly foam or scum on the creek as well. Please wash outdoor furniture on the lawn. A plain-water rinse removes most dust and dirt, and is better for the finish. If you must use soap, use as little as possible and dispose of the wash water in a utility sink, not the driveway, gutter or storm drain.
  • Draining a pool or hot tub? Remember that highly chlorinated water kills fish. Discharge pool or hot tub water into the City sewer system and not into the gutters or storm drains.
  • Run a neighborhood cleanup campaign. Talk with your friends, family and neighbors about any debris problems.

Yard Care

Fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides are commonly toxic to fish, birds, and helpful insects. Excess nutrients from commercial fertilizers can cause algae to flourish in creeks. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose, depleting the oxygen in the water. Fish and other aquatic organisms can't survive in water with low dissolved oxygen levels.

  • Use fertilizers sparingly or not at all.
  • Learn to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to reduce your dependence on harmful pesticides.
  • Don't apply outdoor chemicals during the rainy season, especially if rain is forecast.

Yard waste can clog streams and reduce oxygen levels, harming aquatic life.

  • Sweep driveways and sidewalks instead of using a hose. Excessive amount of leaves and lawn clippings deplete the creek's oxygen as they decompose. This can cause odor problems, and is not healthy for wildlife.
  • Use a broom, not a hose or leaf blower, to clean up your garden clippings.
  • Start a compost pile or save yard waste in a waterproof container for Green Waste Pickup.

Paved surfaces like sidewalks, parking lots, roads, and driveways prevent water from percolating into the ground. A typical city block generates more than five times as much runoff as a wooded area the same size. Heavy storm runoff blasts out stream banks, damaging streamside vegetation and threatening streamside properties. Paved surfaces also transfer heat to runoff, thereby increasing the temperature of receiving waters. This is detrimental to native species of fish and other aquatic life.

  • Porous pavement materials can help driveways and patios absorb rainfall more effectively. Wooden decks, gravel or brick paths, and rock gardens keep the natural ground cover intact and allow rainwater to slowly seep into the ground.
  • Grasses or natural ground covers can be attractive and practical substitutes for asphalt driveways, walkways, and patios.

Sediment can cloud water and make it difficult or impossible for aquatic plants to grow. Sediment can also harm fish and other aquatic life. Remodeling? Re-landscaping? Lack of attention to erosion controls can cause excessive sedimentation and damage local streams.

  • Divert storm water away from disturbed or exposed outdoor areas and install silt fences or other sediment and erosion controls.
  • Re-seed and mulch bare areas as soon as possible. For some more inspired ideas on protecting watersheds through site design techniques, go to

Plant Selection is important, too. Altering the natural contours of your yard and planting non-native plants that need fertilizer and extra water can increase runoff volumes, increase erosion, and introduce chemicals into the path of runoff.

  • Xeriscape landscaping incorporates many environmental factors into landscape design--soil type, use of native plants, practical turf areas, proper irrigation, mulches, and appropriate maintenance schedules.
  • Using native plants well-suited to the region's climate and pests drastically reduces the need for irrigation, fertilizers and pesticide applications. Less irrigation results in less runoff, while less chemical application keeps runoff clean.
  • Native plants also provide food, habitat, and shelter for native insects, birds and mammals.

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