Municipal Housekeeping


Municipalities play an integral part in containing and reducing urban pollutants before they enter into our stormwater system. Towns on Cape Cod maintain a system of stormwater management facilities that include inlets, conduits, manholes, channels, ditches, drainage easements, infiltration facilities, and other components, as well as natural waterways.  The Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for municipal operations minimum control measure is an important element of the Stormwater Management Program on Cape Cod. Here we recognize the need to maintain a functional storm water drainage system to reduce long-term costs associated with inadequate maintenance and flooding.

Today, most towns on Cape Cod require Municipal small sewer system operators to examine and potentially alter their own actions to help ensure a reduction in two different categories of pollutants.  One category include pollutants that collect on streets, parking lots, open spaces, and storage and vehicle maintenance areas and are discharged into local waterways.  The second category of pollutants results from actions such as environmentally damaging land development, flood management practices, or poor maintenance of storm sewer systems.

This site provides all of the information you need on Pollution Prevention and Good Housekeeping and how to incorporate these practices into your municipality.

Key Municipal Housekeeping Issues:

1.Roadway and Bridge Maintenance

Substantial amounts of sediment and pollutants are generated during daily roadway and bridge use and scheduled repair operations, and these pollutant loadings can threaten local water quality by contributing heavy metals, hydrocarbons, sediment, and debris to storm water runoff.   Numerous pathways for pollutant deposition on roadways and bridges influence the water quality of stormwater runoff.  Routine performance of general maintenance activities such as sweeping, vegetation maintenance, and cleaning of runoff control structures can help alleviate the impacts of these pollutants.  Modifications in roadway resurfacing practices and application techniques for salt and other deicers can also help reduce pollutant loads to stormwater runoff and protect the quality of receiving waters.

Roadway systems are a large part of the infrastructure of urban areas across the country, and require regular repairs and maintenance due to traffic use and climatic conditions.  The level of pollutants found in road and bridge runoff is variable and is determined by a number of factors in addition to traffic volume and climate.  Other factors affecting pollutant levels include surrounding land use, the design of the bridge or roadway, the presence of roadside vegetation, the use of insecticides, and the frequency of accidents and spills that can introduce hazardous chemicals.  In colder climates, the amount of deicer applied to melt ice and snow can also influence the level of certain pollutants in road runoff and its impacts on local water quality.

2.Septic System Controls

Septic systems are designed to treat wastewater by separating solids from liquids and then draining the liquid into the ground.  Sewage flows into the tank where settling and bacterial decomposition of larger particles takes place, while treated liquid filters into the soil.  When system failures occur, untreated wastewater and sewage can be introduced into ground water or nearby streams and water bodies.

Pollution prevention practices are designed to restrict pollutant and nutrient loads from improperly functioning septic systems from entering local water sources.  These loadings occur for a number of reasons, including improper siting, inadequate installation, or system operation failures.  Failures may also occur due to lapses in the regular inspection and maintenance that are required to ensure proper operation during the design life of the septic system.  Homeowners may be unaware of the age of their system and whether preemptive planning is necessary before the system fails.

The most effective way to control on-site wastewater problems is through a comprehensive management program.  An onsite wastewater management program can reduce water quality degradation and save local governments and homeowners time and money, as well as better tracking of the performance of routine maintenance practices.

Public outreach and training are vital elements in the control of septic system failure.  Many of the problems associated with improper septic system functioning may be attributed to a lack of homeowner knowledge of operation and maintenance of the system.  Educational materials for homeowners and training courses for installers and inspectors can reduce the incidence of failure.

Education is most effective when used in concert with other source reduction practices, such as phosphate bans and use of low-volume plumbing fixtures.  Simple messages that can be conveyed to homeowners to reduce system failures and ensure proper functioning include:

  • Do not wait until septic system shows sign of failure.  Inspect the system annually and have it pumped-out at least once every 3 years
  • Keep records of pumping and maintenance and a map of the location of your system and drainfield.
  • Practice water conservation indoors and divert roof drains and surface water away from the system
  • Use caution in disposing materials down the drain.  Household chemicals can kill the bacteria that make the system work and nondegradable materials (cigarette butts, etc) can clog the system.
  • Keep heavy equipment and vehicles off your system and drainfield.
  • Don’t cover your drainfield with impermeable surfaces that can block evaporation and the air needed for effluent treatment.

3.Road Salt Application and Storage

Salts, gravel, sand, and other materials are applied to highways and roads to reduce the amount of ice during winter storm events.  Salts lower the melting point of ice, allowing roadways to stay free of ice buildup during cold winters.  Sand and gravel increase traction on the road, making travel safer.

This practice is applicable to areas that receive snowfall in winter months and require deicing materials.  Municipalities in these areas must ensure proper storage and application for equipment and materials.

Many of the problems associated with contamination of local waterways stem from the improper storage of deicing materials.  Salts are very soluble when they come into contact with stormwater.  They can migrate into ground water used for public water supplies and also contaminate surface waters.

4.Storm Drain System Cleaning

Storm drain systems need to be cleaned regularly.  Routine cleaning reduces the amount of pollutants, trash and debris both in the storm drain system and in receiving waters.  Clogged drains and storm drain inlets can cause the drains to overflow, leading to increased erosion.  Benefits of cleaning include increased dissolved oxygen, reduced levels of bacteria, and support of instream habitat.  Areas with relatively flat grades or low flows should be given special attention because they rarely achieve high enough flows to flush themselves.

This measure is applicable to all storm drain systems.  The same principles can be applied to material and waste handling areas, paved and vegetated areas, waterways, and new development projects.

5.Parking Lot and Street Cleaning

Employing pavement cleaning practices such as street sweeping on a regular basis is essential in minimizing pollutant export to receiving waters.  These cleaning practices are designed to remove from road and parking lot surfaces sediment debris and other pollutants that are a potential source of pollution impacting urban waterways.  Although performance monitoring for the Nationwide Urban Runoff Program indicated that street sweeping was not very effective in reducing pollutant loads, recent improvements in street sweep technology have enhanced the ability of present day machines to pick up the fine grained sediment particles that carry a substantial portion of the storm water pollutant load.  Many of today’s street sweepers can now significantly reduce the amount of street dirt entering streams and rivers, some by significant amounts.

Seventy percent of cold climate storm water experts recommend street sweeping during the spring snowmelt as a pollution prevention measure.  The frequency and intensity of rainfall for a region are also key variables in determining how streets need to be swept to obtain a desired removal efficiency.  Other factors that affect a street sweeper’s ability to reduce nonpoint pollution include the condition of the street, its geographical location, the operator’s skill, the presence of parked cars, and the amount of impervious area devoted to rooftop.

6.Exterior Vehicle Washing

When washing municipal vehicles such as moving vans, trucks, and tractors, the vehicle wash water can carry sediment and contaminants to surface waters, and can contaminate groundwater by infiltration or by drainage to subsurface wells and/or septic systems.  Vehicle wash water contains oil, grease, metal (paint chips), phosphates, detergents, soaps, cleaners, road salts, and other chemicals that can contaminate source water.

The following is a list of practices that those businesses with their own vehicle washing facilities can incorporate to control the water quality impacts of wash water discharges:

1) All vehicle washing should be done in areas designed to collect and hold the wash and rinse water or effluent generated.  Wash water effluent should be recycled, collected, or treated prior to discharge to the sanitary sewer system;

2) Pressure cleaning and stream cleaning should be done off-site to avoid generating runoff with high pollutant concentrations.  If done on-site, no pressure cleaning and steam cleaning should be done in areas designated as wellhead protection areas for public water supply;

3)  On-site storm drain locations should be mapped to avoid discharges to the storm drain system;

4)  Spills should be immediately contained and treated.

7.Washing of Apparatus Floors

Washing shop floors includes spraying water and detergent on floors, and discharging the washwater through a drain to a septic tank, POTW, or waterway. Some facilities may dump used washwater on the ground outside of the facility. Washing shop floors, likewashing vehicles, may be regulated under the pretreatment program or NPDES section of the Clean Water Act. These sections may require the facility to obtain permits, install oil and water separators, or comply with other provisions designed to prevent contaminated wastewater from reaching the environment.

8.Spill Prevention Control Plan

Spills and leaks can adversely impact the storm drain system and receiving waters if not controlled correctly.  Due to the type of work or the materials involved, many activities that occur either at a municipal facility or as a part of municipal field programs have the potential for accidental spills and leaks.  Proper spill prevention training, planning, and preparation can enable municipal employees to effectively prevent problems before they occur to minimize the discharge of pollutants to the environment.  An effective spill prevention plan should include spill/leak prevention measures and employee training.

Pollution Prevention- Develop and implement a Spill Prevention Control and Response Plan that includes:

  • A description of the facility, the address, activities and materials involved
  • Identification of key spill response personnel
  • Identification of the potential spill areas or operations prone to spills or leaks, and which of these areas should be bermed to contain the spills
  • Facility map identifying the key locations of areas, activities, materials, structural BMPs, etc
  • Spill response procedures
  • Product substitution – use less toxic materials
  • Recycle, reclaim, or reuse materials whenever possible.  This will reduce the amount of materials that are brought into the facility

Suggested Protocols – Spill/Leak Prevention Measures

  • If possible, move material handling indoors, under cover, or away from storm drains or sensitive water bodies
  • Properly label all containers so that the contents are easily identifiable
  • Cover outside storage areas either with a permanent structure or with a seasonal one such as a tarp so that materials will be left untouched by rain
  • Check containers (and any containment sumps) often for leaks and spills.  Replace containers that are leaking, corroded, or otherwise deteriorating with containers in good condition.  Collect all spilled liquids and properly dispose of them
  • Place drip pans or absorbent materials beneath all mounted taps and at all potential drip and spill locations during the filling and unloading of containers
  • Only transport the minimum amount of material needed for the daily activities and transfer materials between containers at a municipal yard where leaks and spills are easier to control
  • If paved, sweep and clean storage areas monthly, do not use water to hose down the area unless all of the water will be collected and disposed of properly
  • Install a spill control device in any catch basins that collect runoff from any storage areas if the materials stored are oil, gas, or other materials that separate from and float on water
  • If necessary, protect catch basins while conducting field activities so that if a spill occurs, the material will be contained
  • Educate employees about spill prevention, spill response and cleanup on a routine basis
  • Well-trained employees can reduce human errors that lead to accidental releases or spills:
  • The employees should have the tools and knowledge to immediately begin cleaning up a spill if one should occur
  • Employees should be familiar with the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan if one is available
  • Training of staff from all municipal departments should focus on recognizing and reporting potential or current spills/leaks and who they should contact
  • Employees responsible for aboveground storage tanks and liquid transfers for large bulk containers should be thoroughly familiar with the Spill Prevention control and Countermeasure Plan and the plan should be readily available

9.Vehicle and Equipment Fueling

Spills and leaks that occur during vehicle and equipment fueling can contribute hydrocarbons, oil and grease, as well as heavy metals to stormwater runoff.  Proper management practices can help prevent such spills and leaks that lead to stormwater contamination.  To reduce the potential for pollutant discharge, source control pollution prevention and employee training must be implemented.

Pollution Prevention:

  • Use properly maintained offsite fueling stations whenever possible.  These businesses are better equipped to handle fuel and spills properly.
  • Educate employees about pollution prevention measures and goals
  • Focus pollution prevention activities on containment of spills and leaks, most of which may occur during liquid transfers

Suggested Protocols

  • “Spot clean” leaks and drips routinely.  Leaks are not cleaned up until the absorbent is picked up and disposed of properly Post signs to remind employees not to top off the fuel tank when filling and signs that ban employees from changing engine oil or other fluids at that location.
  • Report leaking vehicles to fleet maintenance
  • Install inlet catch basin equipped with a small sedimentation basin or grit chamber to remove large particles from stormwater in highly impervious areas.
  • Ensure the following safeguards are in place
  • Overflow protection devices on tank systems to warn the operator to automatically shutdown transfer pumps when the tank reaches full capacity
  • Protective guards around tanks and piping to prevent vehicle or forklift damage
  • Clearly tagging or labeling all valves to reduce human error


Educate employees about spill prevention, spill response and cleanup on a routine basis;

  • Train all employees upon hiring and annually thereafter on proper methods for handling and disposing of waste.  Make sure that all employees understand stormwater discharge prohibitions, wastewater discharge requirements, and these best management practices
  • Train employees on proper fueling and cleanup procedures
  • Use a training log or similar method to document training
  • Ensure that employees are familiar with the site’s spill control plan and/or proper spill cleanup procedures


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Cape Cod Groundwater Guardian Team
PO Box 226 Barnstable, MA 02630
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