Controlling  Nonpoint Source  Runoff  Pollution
from  Roads,  Highways and Bridges

EPA, Office of Water, August 1995 (EPA-841-F-95-008a)

 Roads, highways, and bridges are a source of significant contributions of pollutants to our nation's
waters. Contaminants from vehicles and activities associated with road and highway construction and
maintenance are washed from roads and roadsides when it rains or snow melts. A large amount of this
runoff pollution is carried directly to water bodies.

Contaminants in Runoff Pollution
Runoff pollution is that associated with rainwater or melting snow that washes off roads, bridges,
parking lots, rooftops, and other impermeable surfaces. As it flows over these surfaces, the water
picks up dirt and dust, rubber and metal deposits from tire wear, antifreeze and engine oil that  has
dripped onto the pavement, pesticides and fertilizers, and discarded cups, plastic bags, cigarette
butts, pet waste, and other litter. These contaminants are carried into our lakes, rivers, streams, and

Contaminants in runoff pollution from roads, highways, and bridges include:
Sediment: Sediment is produced  when soil particles are eroded from the land and transported to
surface waters. Natural erosion usually occurs gradually because vegetation protects the ground.
When land is cleared or disturbed to build a road or bridge, however,  the rate of erosion increases.
The vegetation is removed and the soil is left exposed, to be quickly washed away in the next rain.
Erosion around bridge structures, road pavements, and drainage ditches can damage and weaken
these structures.

Soil particles settle out of the water in a lake, stream, or bay onto aquatic plants, rocks, and the
bottom. This sediment prevents sunlight from  reaching  aquatic plants, clogs fish gills, chokes other
organisms, and can  smother fish  spawning and nursery areas.

Other pollutants such as heavy metals and pesticides adhere to sediment and are transported with it
by wind and water. These pollutants degrade water quality and can harm aquatic life by interfering
with photosynthesis, respiration,  growth, and reproduction.

Oils and Grease: Oils and grease  are leaked onto road surfaces from car and truck engines, spilled at
fueling stations, and discarded directly onto pavement or into storm sewers instead  of being taken to
recycling stations. Rain and snowmelt transport these pollutants directly to surface waters.

Heavy Metals: Heavy metals come from some "natural" sources such  as minerals in rocks, vegetation,
sand, and salt. But they also come from car and truck exhaust, worn tires and engine parts, brake

linings, weathered paint, and rust. Heavy metals are toxic to aquatic life and can potentially
contaminate ground water.

Debris: Grass and shrub clippings, pet waste, food containers, and other household wastes and litter
can lead to unsightly and polluted waters. Pet waste from urban areas can add enough nutrients to
estuaries to cause premature aging, or "eutrophication."

Road Salts: In the snowbelt, road salts can be a major pollutant in both urban and rural areas. Snow
runoff containing salt can produce high sodium  and chloride concentrations in ponds, lakes, and bays.
This can cause unnecessary fish kills and changes to water chemistry.

Fertilizers, Pesticides, and Herbicides:  If these are  applied excessively  or improperly, fertilizers,
pesticides, and herbicides can be carried by rain waters from the green parts of public rights-of-way.
In rivers, streams, lakes, and bays, fertilizers contribute to algal blooms and excessive plant growth,
and can lead to eutrophication. Pesticides and herbicides  can be harmful to human and aquatic life.

Recognizing and Controlling Runoff Pollution
Erosion gullies on land cleared of vegetation at  a road construction site are a sign of sediment runoff.
Iridescence (rainbow colors) in runoff water is a sign of spilled petroleum products washing off roads.
Other signs of runoff pollution during road construction include obvious changes in streams or rivers
downstream from the construction, such  as bank erosion  and sloughing, muddy or oily water, and
sandbar relocation. Clumps of mud  on  roads leaving a construction site can lead to sediment flows
heading for drainage ditches and storm inlets that  empty into nearby streams.

Rad projects should incorporate pollution prevention , preferably by  reducing the amount of pollutants
released, into an effective runoff pollution control plan.

Best management practices such as permanent storm water retention/detention ponds, slope
protection,  or grass  strips, and temporary sediment traps, silt fences, diversion trenches, and
provisions for washing vehicles before  they leave the construction site  are all means to reduce runoff

Pollution Prevention and Control Programs and Regulations
The need to protect our environment has  resulted  in a number of  pollution control laws, regulations,
and programs. The implementation of  these programs takes place at all levels - federal, state, and

Clean Water Act
In 1987, Congress established the Nonpoint Source Management  Program under section 319 of the
Clean Water Act (CWA),  to help states address  nonpoint source, or runoff pollution by identifying
waters affected by such pollution and adopting  and implementing  management programs to control  it.

These programs recommend where and how to use best management practices (BMPs) to prevent
runoff from becoming polluted, and where it is polluted, to reduce the amount that reaches surface

Coastal Zone Management Act and  Reauthorization
The Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 established a program for states and territories to
voluntarily develop comprehensive programs to protect and manage coastal water resource.

There are now 29 states and territories with federally approved coastal zone management programs.

The Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA) of 1990 specifically charged the coastal
states and territories with developing upgraded programs to protect coastal waters from runoff
pollution. This program is administered nationally by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  CZARA applies to construction sites in
29 states and territories where less than 5 acres is disturbed. CZARA also applies to storm water
runoff from roads that is carried by municipal separate storm sewer systems that serve populations of
less than 100,000.

National Pollution Discharge Elimination System
Construction sites where 5 or more acres are disturbed are considered point sources of pollution and
require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) storm water permit under section
402 of the CWA. In addition, the following types of storm water discharges are regulated under  the
NPDES permit program: discharges from  municipal separate sewer systems serving populations of
100,000 or more;  discharges associated with industrial activities, including construction sites of 5
acres or more; and other discharges identified by EPA or a state as needing an NPDES permit because
they contribute to a water quality violation.

EPA is developing regulations for other storm water discharges, which may include discharges from
municipal separate storm sewer systems serving populations of less than 100,000 and discharges
associated with commercial operations, light industries, and construction sites of less than 5 acres. If
and when construction sites of less than 5 acres are regulated  under the NPDES program, they will no
longer be subject to the requirements of CZARA.

Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
A major piece of legislation designed to expand and improve the quality and condition of our national
highway and transportation systems is the Intermodal Surface Transportation  Efficiency Act (ISTEA)  of
1991, better known as "ice tea." This act contains provision for the planning and developing of
highway systems and a host of transportation enhancements activities including the mitigation of
water pollution due to highway runoff.

Through ISTEA, states are able to use a portion of their federal funding allotment for runoff pollution
control devices and other BMPs to prevent polluted runoff from reaching their lakes, rivers, and bays.

Other EPA Programs
Other EPA programs that help control roadway pollution include the National  Estuary Program (NEP)
established by the CWA and the pesticides program under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and
Rodenticide Act. The NEP focuses on point sources and runoff pollution in targeted, high-priority
estuaries. The pesticides program regulates pesticides that might threaten ground and surface waters.

Management Measures and Best Management Practices
CZARA established goals to be achieved in controlling the addition of pollutants to out coastal waters.
EPA developed a Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in
Coastal Waters. States with  approved coastal zone management programs are required to incorporate
the Guidance management measures, or more stringent management measures, into their Coastal
Zone Nonpoint Source Control Programs. CWA section 319 programs assist states in the development
of nonpoint source controls.

Key management  measures for roads, highways, and bridges include the following:

       Protect areas that provide important water quality benefits or are  particularly susceptible to
       erosion or sediment loss.
       Limit land  disturbance such  as clearing and grading and cut fill to  reduce erosion and sediment
       Limit disturbance of natural  drainage features and vegetation.
       Place bridge structures so that sensitive and  valuable aquatic ecosystems are protected.
       Prepare and implement an approved erosion  control plan.
       Ensure proper storage and disposal of toxic material.
       Incorporate pollution prevention into operation and maintenance procedures to reduce
       pollutant loadings to surface runoff.
       Develop and implement runoff pollution controls for existing road systems to reduce pollutant
       concentrations and volumes.

Consult the Guidance for detailed information on the management  measures.

Management measures, as a practical matter, can often be achieved  by applying best management
practices appropriate to the  source of runoff, runoff location, and climate. The Guidance suggests a
number of best management practices that are options  for states to use in successfully achieving
management measures for bridges,  road construction, road  maintenance, and operation.

Examples of best management practices for roads, highways, and bridges include:

       Avoid highway locations that require numerous river or wetland crossings (to achieve the
       Management Measure for Bridges).
       Coordinate erosion and sediment controls with the Federal  Highway Administration (FHWA),
       the American Association of State Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and state guidelines (to
       achieve the Management Measure for Construction Projects).

       Collect and remove road debris and repair potholes (to achieve the Management Measure for
       Operation and Maintenance).

For More Information
To obtain more information on the Clean Water Act, runoff (nonpoint source) pollution control
programs, CZARA, storm water regulations and control, ISTEA, or management measures and BMPs
for roads, highways, and bridges, contact the appropriate offices listed below.

United States Environmental Protection Agency Nonpoint Source and NPDES Storm Water
       U.S. EPA Region I (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island,
       Vermont) NPS (617) 565-3513 NPDES Storm Water (617) 565-3580
       U.S. EPA Region II (New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands) NPS (212) 637-3701
       NPDES Storm Water (212) 637-3724
       U.S. EPA Region III (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia) NPS (215)
       597-3429 NPDES Storm Water (215) 597-0547
       U.S. EPA Region IV (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South
       Carolina, Tennessee) NPS (404) 346-2126 NPDES Storm Water (404) 347-3012
       U.S. EPA Region V (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin) NPS (312) 886-
       0209 NPDES Storm Water (312) 886-6100
       U.S. EPA Region VI (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas)  NPS (214) 665-7140
       NPDES Storm Water (214) 665-7175
       U.S. EPA Region VII (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska) NPS (913) 551-7475 NPDES Storm
       Water (913) 551-7418
       U.S. EPA Region VIII (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming) NPS
       (303) 293-173 NPDES Storm Water (303) 293-1630
       U.S. EPA Region IX (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada) NPS (415) 744-2011 NPDES Storm
       Water (415) 744-1906
       U.S. EPA Region X (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington) NPS (206) 553-4181 NPDES Storm
       Water (206) 553-8399
       U.S. EPA Headquarters NPS (202) 260-7100 NPDES Storm Water (202) 260-9541
       Chesapeake Bay Program (800) 968-7229
       Gulf of Mexico Program (601) 688-7940

Federal Highway Administration Local Transportation Assistance Program (LTAP) Technology Transfer
(T2) Centers:

The LTAP program provides training and technical assistance to local/tribal government transportation
agencies on roads and bridges. For the location of the LTAP T2 center in your state, contact the T2
Clearinghouse at (202) 347-7267.

                      Water | Wetlands, Oceans &  Watersheds | Watershed Protection

                           Last updated on Wednesday, January 13th, 2010.