What is Storm Water?

When it rains, storm water runs off roof tops, parking lots, streets, yards, sidewalks and fields, carrying pollutants with it. Storm drains, or catch basins, are designed to carry rainwater away from developed areas to prevent flooding, and are not connected to sanitary sewer systems or treatment plants. On campus, untreated storm water and the pollutants it carries flow into storm drains and directly into the Red Cedar River. This pollution can lead to the destruction of fish, wildlife, and aquatic life habitats; a loss in aesthetic value; and threats to public health. Learn more about storm water by reviewing our frequently asked questions.


Storm_Drain DSC07246


Learn what you can do to help protect water resources

University Requirements

Michigan State University is regulated under Phase II of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Storm Water Program. MSU is required to have an NPDES permit for its storm water discharges into the Red Cedar River because MSU is considered to be a small MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) operator in an urbanized area. Under NPDES regulations, MSU was required to develop a Storm Water Management Program which must be implemented using best management practices. There are six minimum control measures required of the management plan. These include: public education and outreach, public participation, illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction site runoff control, post-construction runoff control and pollution prevention/good housekeeping practices. Learn more about MSU’s efforts here.

Learn more about storm water

What is storm water runoff?
After a precipitation event, storm water runs off rooftops, streets, parking lots, yards, sidewalks and fields, carrying a number of different pollutants with it. There is a storm water system in place that consists of storm drains or catch basins, pipes and outfalls that are designed to carry rainwater away from developed areas in order to prevent flooding. This separated system is not connected to the sanitary sewer system, and the water is not treated at the wastewater treatment plant.

Where does storm water go?
On campus, and the areas surrounding campus, untreated storm water flows into the storm drains and is conveyed directly into the Red Cedar River.

Why is it a problem?
Storm water carries high concentrations of the pollutants with it, and this pollution can lead to the destruction of aquatic life, fish and wildlife habitats, and loss in aesthetic values.

How does storm water become polluted?
Storm water becomes polluted from our everyday activities that people don’t think twice about. Storm water can become polluted from trash and debris that makes its way into the storm drain; lawn care activities such as improper use of fertilizers and pesticides and not cleaning up grass clippings and leaves; washing vehicles on pavement, which allows the soap and dirty wastewater to go right into the storm drain; improper maintenance of our vehicles which can result in oil and antifreeze leaks; waste from pets and wildlife, which can lead to bacteria and other pathogens contaminating the storm water; and improper storage, use and disposal of household chemicals. Be sure to store properly, buy wisely and take unwanted household chemicals to hazardous waste collection centers so that they cannot contaminate storm water.

How can storm water cause flooding?
Storm water conveyance systems are used to carry storm water away from developed areas to prevent flooding. However, this process can lead to flooding of the river. Under natural conditions, water is allowed to infiltrate into the soil, and water that does not infiltrate, slowly makes its way to the river. This natural and slow process prevents erosion and flooding of the river, but when water is conveyed to the river by pipes there is a large gush of water which can exceed the capacity of the river resulting in the erosion of riverbanks and flooding.

My property borders a tributary of the Red Cedar River. Should I be concerned about storm water?
Land that directly borders a stream, river, lake or other water body is also known as a riparian zone. If your property has riparian zones, you can play a significant role in protecting water quality in your own backyard. Allowing vegetation including trees, shrubs, grasses or wildflowers to grow along a stream bank protects against soil erosion and reduces polluted runoff. Learn about riparian buffers and how to install them by downloading this brochure.

What else can I do to help manage storm water?
There are several ways to help manage storm water at home or work. Consult the resources on the right side of this page or visit our tips page.


Permitting and Best Management Practices

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality NPDES Permits
Visit Michigan’s Storm Water Program Website
National Menu of Storm Water Best Management Practices
A Menu of BMPs based on the Storm Water Phase II Rule’s six minimum control measures.
Visit EPA’s Menu of Storm Water Best Management Practices Website

Storm Water Tidbits

The links below provide information about protecting water resources in the Red Cedar River Watershed:

Car Washing

Lawn care

car washing brochure | car washing poster

Lawn Care

Lawn care

lawn care brochure | lawn care poster

Motor Oil

motor oil

motor oil brochure | motor oil poster

Pet Care

dog waste

pet care brochure | pet care poster