Storm water runoff
Storm water runoff after a monsoon rain.
Credit: Steve Carr

The Department of Safety & Risk Services oversees the UNM Watershed Basin permit and works to keep UNM’s storm water runoff as clean and pollution-free as possible. Storm water runoff occurs when precipitation from rain or snowmelt flows over the ground; however, impervious surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and streets, prevent the natural absorption into the ground.

For this reason, the campus community needs to take steps to prevent additional pollution to runoff as much as possible. Knowing what the issues are and how the UNM campus community can better the quality of its storm water runoff can go a long way towards mitigating additional pollution runoff.                                                                                                 

Like most metropolitan areas, almost all of storm water in the Albuquerque area flows to the Rio Grande without any treatment. With that in mind, the best option is to prevent materials and toxic substances from being washed away with storm water runoff. 

Below is a list provided concerning materials that would negatively impact the river, if flushed away with storm water:

  • Hazardous Chemicals – including pesticides, paint, solvents, used motor oil and automobile fluids, to name a few. Land animals and people can become extremely ill from ingesting polluted water or eating contaminated/diseased fish and shellfish.
  • Debris – such as plastic bags, six-pack plastic rings, cigarette butts, and bottles washed into water bodies can choke, suffocate or disable organisms like ducks, fish and birds.
  • Excess nutrients – from fertilizers like phosphorous and nitrogen can cause algae blooms. When algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process the removes oxygen from the water. With low dissolved oxygen, fish and other organisms can’t thrive or exist.
  • Bacteria and Pathogens – can wash into swimming areas and create health hazards often making beach closures necessary.
  • Sediment – can cloud the water and make it difficult for aquatic plants to grow.  Sediment can also destroy aquatic habitat.

How the campus community can help
Typically, New Mexico’s monsoon season starts in July and we expect consistent rainfall, but living in an arid climate, overall, precipitation isn’t expected very often aside from the monsoon season. Moreover, adopting an active consciousness that considers, “what’s the environmental risk?” if it rains, is helpful. 

The following will help UNM decrease its environmental footprint and help keep the watershed as clean as possible.

  1. Properly maintain vehicles for repairs and routine maintenance while parked at UNM, to prevent fluid leaks. 
  2. Pick up pet waste and litter, and properly dispose of it, in order to keep e. coli and other bacteria from reaching the Rio Grande via storm water runoff.
  3. Recycle when possible! UNM has made it more convenient than ever before to recycle different materials in proper containers in multiple areas around campus.
  4. Oil based paints, solvents and other hazardous liquids and materials should NEVER be dumped on the ground, in the trash, or down the drain. Call Safety & Risk Services for assistance with any questions on how to properly label, containerize or dispose of such materials.
  5. If any suspicious illegal dumping or activity, including construction work is seen around campus, please call and report it to Safety & Risk Services at (505) 277-2753. However, if it is an oil leak or lubrication leak on pavement, do not call as asphalt is a good absorber and will not readily wash away.

Finally, the Rio Grande is a delicate river system and is listed as one of the top-10 most endangered rivers in the United States, and is vital to our agricultural operations. It is a natural resource out here in the arid Southwest and Albuquerque metropolitan area.

The campus community should take pride and strive to protect it. For additional help with the mission of Safety & Risk’s storm water pollution prevention efforts, or have any campus concerns dealing with storm water runoff and pollution prevention, call SRS at (505) 277-2753 or visit, Safety & Risk Services.