The Difference Between Storm Sewers and Sanitary Sewers

| January 24, 2018

“It’s all pipes! What’s the difference?”

It was over twenty years ago when George Costanza uttered this infamous line on Seinfeld. And although his unfortunate situation was a little bit different, the debate about which pipes lead to where is actually vitally important.

Everyone has seen storm drains before, and just about everyone has heard of a sewer system. But could you name the major differences between the two of them? Do you know that the two of them can often be mixed up? Not only does this mistake keep some people confused, but it can also have damaging effects on the environment and the systems built within it.

Here we outline the major differences between storm drains and sewer systems, and how to properly maintain them. To learn more about maintaining sewer and stormwater systems, don’t forget to read Stormwater Management, Inflow, and Infiltration Prevention.

Storm Sewer

The Difference Between Storm Sewers and Sanitary Sewers drain

A storm drain is a system designed for the purpose of carrying rainwater or melting snow. They can often be found, built into roadside curbs, alleys, or basements floors. Storm drains often carry rainwater and melted snow through an underground system that ends up in nearby rivers, creeks, or the ocean.

A storm sewer contains untreated water. So the water that enters the river or ocean at the other end is the same water that entered the system.

Sanitary Sewer

The Difference Between Storm Sewers and Sanitary Sewers manhole cover

As opposed to a storm drain, sanitary sewer systems carry sewage from underground pipes to a wastewater treatment plant. Sanitary sewers originate from bathrooms, sinks, kitchens, and other plumbing sources.

Before the water is released into a source, such as rivers and oceans, it is treated at the wastewater treatment facility. Standards and regulations mandated by the NPDES make sure that the water is safe enough to discharge after it’s treated.

What to Watch Out For

As you probably guessed, if hazardous liquids or other materials make it through the storm drain system, they will pollute the water source at the other end. Dangerous fluids like motor oil, gasoline, paint, or cleaners can be damaging to the environment and especially harmful to wildlife.

In addition to fluid materials, items like grass clippings, leaves, or garbage can clog up storm drains and potentially cause flooding. It’s a good idea to follow these tips:

  • Avoid littering in storm sewer drains.
  • Repair leaks in your vehicle.
  • Recycle motor oil, and properly dispose hazardous waste.
  • Never pour anything but water into a storm sewer drain.

Taking care of stormwater and sewer systems is a vital part of being a community. Not only does it keep cities and communities clean, but it keeps us all healthy and prevents us from damaging the environment and the wildlife in it.

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