You Are Essential to Clean Water Potential

Residents of Palo Alto can help prevent stormwater pollution in our local creeks and the San Francisco Bay through everyday actions. Together we can take accomplish these goals:

  • protect aquatic life and habitats;
  • keep our waterways clean and safe for recreational activities such as fishing or boating; and
  • ensure clean waterways for generations to come!

What is a watershed?

A watershed is a land area that channels rain and other water into creeks, streams, rivers, and eventually to outflow points. In Palo Alto, the outflow points for the City’s watersheds are the Baylands and South San Francisco Bay. These watersheds include San Francisquito, Matadero/Barron, and Adobe, Stevens, and Permanente. View the Palo Alto watershed map to learn which watershed you live in.

Every single person in Palo Alto lives or works in a watershed and impacts local water quality— no matter how many miles away you live from the Bay! This means each of us can directly impact the Bay’s water quality with our daily choices and activities. You may be polluting the Bay without realizing it.

How does pollution get into our waterways?

The storm drain system in Palo Alto helps regulate flooding during rain events and also manages other water such as irrigation during the dry season. Storm drain pipes carry all runoff from our watersheds directly into our local creeks and the San Francisco Bay. 

As this water flows over our urban landscape, it picks up and carries pollutants off hard surfaces like streets, sidewalks, roofs, driveways, and parking lots. Wastewater that enters our sewer system through sinks, showers, and toilets gets treated at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. However, the water that flows into storm drains and creeks isn’t treated and may include pollutants that harm aquatic life and other species.

Image credit: Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program

What are some sources of water pollution?

Anything that isn’t clean rainwater has the potential to pollute our waters. Even our taps include additives (such as fluoride, salts, and inorganic ions) which can affect aquatic life. Pollutants from our daily activities include:

  • Motor oil and auto fluids that leak from our vehicles
  • Antifreeze, oil, paint, or household cleaners dumped or rinsed in the gutter or storm drain inlets
  • Soap and dirt from washing cars in the driveway or street
  • Wash water improperly disposed of from mobile businesses (e.g., groomers, auto detailers, carpet cleaners)
  • Litter, cigarette butts, and grime that collects on sidewalks and parking lots
  • Weed killers, fertilizers, and pesticides that are washed off from lawns and gardens
  • Pet waste left on lawns, street, or sidewalks
  • Dirt, leaves, and lawn clippings that clog storm drain inlets and choke creeks with too many organic materials, depriving them of vital oxygen
  • Soil from construction or landscaping that erodes or blows into the street, often containing pesticides or other pollutants

Preventing stormwater pollution starts with you!

Residents and businesses are the leading causes of local stormwater pollution and have become the primary threats to the Bay. However, together we can help prevent stormwater pollution by making small changes to our daily activities.

Tidying Outdoors


  • Keep garbage and recycling cans tightly covered to prevent litter from being blown away or scattered by foraging animals.
  • Clean leaves and trash out of your rain gutters and street and dispose of them in the garbage.
  • When using a cleaning company (e.g., carpet cleaners, window washers, power washers), be sure they dispose of wastewater in a utility sink, toilet, sanitary sewer cleanout, or a vegetated area (if it won’t overflow to the street).
  • Pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly in the garbage.

Lawn & Garden


  • Avoid spraying pesticides in or around your property. Check out less toxic pest management techniques found on the Our Water Our World website.
  • Use “green” gardening methods such as conserving water, installing stormwater projects on your property, planting native plants, protecting the soil, and reducing the use of toxic pesticides.
  • Adjust your sprinklers or irrigation systems to prevent over-watering, and prevent water from draining onto paved surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks.
  • Use a broom, not a hose or a blower, to clean up outside.
  • Compost leaves and yard clippings, or recycle them through your yard waste recycling program.
  • Sweep dirt into landscaping to prevent it from entering the storm drain system.
  • When using a gardening service, be sure they follow the guidelines listed above.

Home Improvement Projects


  • Rinse latex paint brushes in a sink, not outdoors. Recycle excess paint at a Paint Care drop-off site

  • Drain your pool or spa into a sanitary sewer cleanout or vegetated area, not into a street or storm drain.

  • Keep concrete, cement, dirt, or mortar from blowing or flowing into the street or storm drain. Don't wash tools or dispose of excess materials in the gutter or storm drain.

  • Direct roof downspouts to rain gardens, landscaped areas, or rain barrels.

  • Build your driveway with pervious materials that allow rain and runoff to soak into the soil.

Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)


  • Store household chemicals in containers like plastic bins. Dispose of leaking containers and expired/unwanted products properly at the Palo Alto HHW Station.
  • Keep chemicals stored indoors or under cover where they will not be rained on.



  • Regularly maintain your vehicle to prevent air-polluting exhaust and leaks of auto fluids. Fix leaks promptly.

  • If you change your own oil, recycle it and the filter with Palo Alto’s curbside collection program or through Palo Alto’s HHW Station.

  • Use a commercial car wash. They are often equipped with machinery that uses less water and collect and recycle their water.

  • Keep a trash bag in the car. Collect all trash and dispose of it properly.

  • Tarp Your Load. Properly covering and securing loads reduces litter and debris that fall out of truck beds.

In Your Community


  • If you see litter, pick it up and put it in a trash can.

  • Participate in a creek cleanup! Visit for cleanup information on Coastal Cleanup Day and National River Cleanup Day. 

  • Only if needed, buy less toxic chemicals. Store and dispose of them properly.

  • Move beyond single-use disposables to reduce waste and litter. Bring your own reusable utensils and snack packs, or buy food items with less packaging. Everyday actions add up! Visit Zero Waste Living for additional tips and information.

  • Make sure hired mobile businesses (e.g., car detailers, carpet cleaners, and dog groomers) dispose of liquid and solid waste appropriately and not into the street. (Non-toxic wastewater can be disposed of down a utility sink or toilet).

  • Adopt a creek through the Valley Water Adopt A Creek Program.


Resources & Video Links