The Car Washing - Water Pollution Connection:  Why Does It Matter Where I Wash My Car?

According to water quality experts, the chemicals in the soaps that are used in car washes, even the ones that say they’re environmentally friendly — like Dawn dishwashing soap, still have some kind of toxic surfactant or chemical in it that will harm our creeks, streams and lakes.

In Lakeport, water runoff that enters stormwater drains, including most water that runs down driveways and older commercial parking lots, goes into water bodies like Forbes Creek and Clear Lake. By contrast, water captured by drains in commercial car washes, like drains inside homes, is treated by the city’s sewer system.

The California Water Resources Control Board adopted regulations that prohibit the illicit discharge of any non-stormwater material many years ago and the City of Lakeport adopted a local stormwater management ordinance in 2009 (Lakeport Municipal Code Chapter 8.40). The city is obligated to enforce the regulations in order to remain in compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by the State of California.

What is the Problem with Car Washing?

Why Does It Matter Where I Wash My Car?

Vehicle wash water contains pollutants like oil, grease, heavy metals, solvents and soaps that harm fish and degrade water quality. When you wash your car in the driveway, the soap together with other pollutants washes from your car and flows into nearby storm drains. Locally, all storm drains are connected to pipes that drain directly into our watersheds.

Some soaps may also contain phosphates, which can cause excess algae to grow in local waterways. As we know, algae looks bad, smells bad, and harms water quality. As algae decays, the process uses up oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.

What Can I Do?

When washing your vehicle at home, do it on the lawn or gravel. This will allow the water to percolate or soak into the ground where the soil can act as a natural filter. Make sure to dump your bucket in your sink or allow it to filter through the ground. Don't dump it down the

driveway. Better yet, use a commercial car wash where the water is recycled and then sent to a wastewater treatment facility.

What About Charity Car Washes?

Community car washes can be a great fundraiser but they must comply with the stormwater regulations that prohibit illicit discharges. Suggestions to avoid creating a stormwater violation include:

§ Sell commercial car wash coupons instead.

§ Use a pump kit to send the soapy runoff to a sanitary sewer.

§ Locate the car wash to divert wash water into the sanitary sewer, not the storm drain.

§ Divert the wash water to a large grass or gravel surface that will allow the wash water to completely infiltrate into the soil.

Clean water is important to all of us and it's up to us to make it happen. In recent years, point sources of water pollution like industrial wastes from factories have been greatly reduced. Now, most water pollution comes from nonpoint sources like cars leaking oil, fertilizers from farms and gardens, and failing septic tanks. All these sources add up to a big water pollution problem, but each of us can do small things to help clean up our water too. That adds up to a pollution solution!

Please contact the City of Lakeport Community Development Department if you have questions about the car wash regulations or need help determining if the proposed site of a community car wash is appropriate.