Basura Bash attempts to reverse adverse effects of polluted storm water runoff

  • Published
  • 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight

The Basura Bash is a one-day, all-volunteer event to clean the San Antonio Watershed. Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston will be hosting the event beginning at 8 a.m. Feb. 17 at the Salado Creek Park. 

The effects of storm water runoff are one reason the Basura Bash creek clean-up is necessary. Storm water runoff occurs when precipitation comes down faster than our soils can soak it up and this rain flows over the ground. Impervious surfaces like driveways, sidewalks and streets prevent storm water runoff from naturally soaking into the ground.

Storm water can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants before it flows into a storm sewer system or directly to a lake, stream, river, wetland or coastal waterway. Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged, untreated, into the bodies of water we use for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water.

Polluted storm water runoff can have many adverse effects on plants, fish, animals and people.

Sediment can cloud the water and make it difficult or impossible for aquatic plants to grow. Sediments also fill up the storage capacity of our reservoirs and can destroy aquatic habitats.

Excess nutrients can cause algae blooms. When algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process that removes oxygen from the water. Fish and other aquatic organisms can’t exist in water with low dissolved oxygen levels. This is called eutrophication and may result in fish kills and toxic algae blooms.

Debris such as plastic bags, six-pack rings, bottles and cigarette butts washed into bodies of water can choke, suffocate or disable aquatic life like ducks, fish, turtles and birds.

Household hazardous wastes like insecticides, pesticides, paint, solvents, used motor oil and other auto fluids can poison aquatic life. People can become sick from eating diseased fish and shellfish or ingesting polluted water.

Polluted storm water often affects drinking water sources. This, in turn, can affect human health and increase drinking water treatment costs.

What are some solutions for storm water pollution?

In residential areas, properly dispose of household products that contain chemicals, such as insecticides, pesticides, paint, solvents and used motor oil and other auto fluids (i.e. antifreeze). Don’t pour them onto the ground or into storm drains. Dispose kitchen grease in garbage to prevent sewer overflows and backups. As always, dispose of trash properly and recycle paper, plastic, glass, metal and electronics.

In regards to lawn care, excess fertilizers and pesticides applied to lawns and gardens wash off and pollute streams. Yard clippings and leaves can wash into storm drains and contribute nutrients and organic matter to streams. When possible, compost or mulch yard wastes. Don’t leave it in the street or sweep it into storm drains or streams. Also, cover piles of dirt or mulch being used in landscaping projects.

Utilize local climate appropriate lawn maintenance techniques when maintaining your lawn. More information is available at the San Antonio Water System’s Garden Style San Antonio website at

Washing your car and degreasing auto parts at home can send detergents and other contaminants through the storm sewer system. Dumping automotive fluids into storm drains has the same result as dumping the materials directly into a body of water. Use a commercial car wash that treats or recycles its wastewater or wash your car on your yard so the water infiltrates into the ground. Repair leaks and dispose of used auto fluids and batteries at designated drop-off or recycling locations.

Pet waste can be a major source of bacteria and excess nutrients in local waters. When walking your pet, remember to pick up the waste and dispose of it properly. Flushing pet waste is the best disposal method. Leaving pet waste on the ground increases public health risks by allowing harmful bacteria and nutrients to wash into the storm drain and eventually into local bodies of water. Bacteria and other pathogens can wash into swimming areas and create health hazards.

Residential landscaping presents its own challenges when it comes to storm water runoff. Traditional concrete and asphalt doesn’t allow water to soak into the ground. Instead, these impervious surfaces rely on storm drains to quickly rush unfiltered runoff into local creeks, thus contributing to flash flooding. Permeable pavement systems allow rain to soak through, decreasing storm water runoff.

Rain gardens and grassy swales are specially designed areas planted with native plants can provide natural places for rainwater to collect and soak into the ground. Rain from rooftop areas or paved areas can be diverted into green infrastructure features rather than into storm drains. Landscape elements that slow, spread and sink runoff into the soil, will convert storm water runoff into a free non-Edwards Aquifer water supply. Some examples can be seen in front of JBSA-Fort Sam Houston’s Quadrangle and near the 502nd Air Base Wing headquarters building.

Another landscaping technique is the use of vegetated filter strips, which are areas of native grass or plants created along roadways or streams. Vegetation cleans the storm water by trapping pollutants runoff picks up from impervious cover as it flows across driveways and streets. Homeowners are encouraged to use rain barrels to collect rainwater from rooftops in mosquito-proof containers. The water can be used later on lawn or garden areas.

In commercial areas, dirt, oil and debris that collect in parking lots and paved areas can be washed into the storm sewer system and eventually enter the local water supply. Sweep up litter and debris from sidewalks, driveways and parking lots, especially around storm drains. Cover grease storage and dumpsters and keep them clean to avoid leaks.

At JBSA locations, report any chemical spill to the applicable JBSA Fire Department. The 502nd Civil Engineering Squadron’s Environmental Flight knows the best way to keep spills from harming the environment.

In construction areas, erosion controls that aren’t maintained can cause excessive amounts of sediment and debris to be carried into the storm water system. Construction vehicles can leak fuel, oil and other harmful fluids that can be picked up by storm water and deposited into local bodies of water.

Construction workers should divert storm water away from disturbed or exposed areas of the construction site. Properly maintain silt fences, vehicle mud removal areas, vegetative cover and other sediment and erosion controls, especially after rainstorms.

Prevent soil erosion by minimizing disturbed areas during construction projects and seed and mulch bare areas as soon as possible.

For facilities where auto repairs are performed, clean up spills immediately and properly dispose of cleanup materials. Properly maintain vehicles and utilize a drip pan to prevent oil, gas and other discharges from being washed into local water sources. Recycle paper, plastics, used motor oil, batteries and antifreeze.

By keeping our upland areas clean and free of pollution, we can proactively keep our creeks and waterways clean and healthy.

 For more information on Basura Bash 2024, or to register to volunteer, visit For questions about this event, send an email to or call 210-671-8015.