Managing Our Water photo identifier

Managing our Water

Pollution Issues

Washington has had environmental laws in place since the early 1970s to regulate water pollution from construction sites, industries, and cities to help prevent or decrease the amount of pollutants in our waters. Pollution enters our state’s water from many sources. Some pollution is discharged through pipes, however, people and land-use practices are currently the leading cause of water pollution. Polluted runoff occurs when rain or snowmelt picks up oil, grease, toxic chemicals, bacteria and nutrients from streets, yards and parking lots and flows through stormwater drains that lead directly into bodies of water.

Ecology works with the shipping and other industries to prevent spills of oil and toxic chemicals. When accidents do occur, we are on scene to minimize the harm. We provide technical assistance to those we regulate and use enforcement and fines when necessary to achieve compliance with our water pollution regulations. We also provide education to people about how they can prevent water pollution through the online tool kit, Washington Waters – Ours to Protect.

  • Nonpoint Pollution - Most pollution in Washington state's waters comes from many different, hard-to-trace sources with no obvious point of discharge.
  • Point Source Pollution - Ecology protects water quality by limiting how much pollution industries can discharge into our waters. Pollution from industrial pipes is called “point” source pollution.
  • Stormwater - Stormwater is rain and snow melt that runs off surfaces such as rooftops, paved streets, highways, and parking lots. As water runs off these surfaces, it can pick up pollution such as: oil, fertilizers, pesticides, soil, trash, and animal waste. When stormwater goes into a storm drain, it is not treated. It goes directly into Washington waters.
  • Preventing Oil Spills - The primary objective of the state is to achieve a zero spills strategy to prevent any oil or hazardous substances from entering waters of the state.
  • Washington Waters: Ours to Protect - Clean water campaign that provides a framework to help people change behaviors that pollute Washington's lakes, rivers, wetlands and marine waters.