Back-Seat Driver

Caltrans launches roadway clean water initiative

Rubber and metal particles from tires are washed into storms drains and on into creeks and rivers.
Rubber and metal particles from tires are washed into storms drains and on into creeks and rivers. Sacramento Bee photo/Tony Bizjak

California highway officials on Wednesday launched a clean water campaign, “Protect Every Drop” aimed reducing the amount of pollution that flows off of people’s cars into streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean.

“Clean water is essential for our quality of life in California, and it’s important to ‘Protect Every Drop’,” said California Department of Transportation Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Every motorist needs to do their part to keep California’s waterways clean.”

Caltrans operates storm drain systems along more than 15,000 miles of the state highway system. Roadway pollution flows through ditches and pipes into city or county storm drain systems, or directly into watersheds.

“Unfortunately, the drought exacerbates our water quality problem because pollution becomes even more concentrated because of the lower water levels in all bodies of waters,” said Scott McGowen, Caltrans’ chief environmental engineer.

Officials offered a handful of tips for drivers at a press conference on the banks of the Sacramento River in West Sacramento.

▪ Keep your vehicle clean to reduce particles from washing off into storm drains. Car washes collect and recycle used water, McGowen said.

▪ Keep tires inflated. Under-inflated tires wear out faster and send particles, including metals, into the water system.

▪ Notably, clean the brake pad dust from wheels.

▪ Securing truckloads with a tarp and ropes to reduce materials flying out and onto the roadway.

▪ Maintain your vehicle so that fluids do not leak.

State Water Resources Control Board member Steven Moore said such actions, take together, will make a difference.

“Some of those most impacted waters are those around our bigger cities, like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento,” Moore said.

The three-year-long campaign is being guided by a steering committee that includes Caltrans, the state water board and the California Stormwater Quality Association.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak