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Give the Illinois River a Hand by Preventing Urban Storm Water Pollution

Dear Illinois Watershed Town Resident:

Volunteers from 4-H and other organizations are attaching messages to storm drain A "No Dumping" sign with a blue fish, "Keep Our Water Clean," and "Blue Thumb Water Pollution Education Program" on it.inlets and curbs in your neighborhood: It’s a reminder to protect neighborhood springs and creeks that drain to the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller. The Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller provide the habitat for the fish and wildlife we appreciate, as well as drinking water for other communities downstream.


What Ends up in the Illinois River?

Most homes in our larger towns are served by two kinds of sewer systems: storm sewers (or storm drainage systems) and sanitary sewers. Water moves through both systems to end up at the Illinois River, but there is a major difference between them. Read below to find out what it is!


Sanitary Sewer System

Water from your sink, bathtub, and toilet travels through underground pipes to a Wastewater Treatment Plant. There, water is treated to remove pollutants, then it is released to eventually flow into the Illinois River.


Storm Drainage System

When rain falls or snow melts on our towns and suburbs, the water washes over roofs, streets, driveways, and yards. It picks up any pollutants that might be left on those surfaces. This runoff water is collected by storm drain inlets, ditches, and underground pipes that are designed to prevent street flooding. The run-off passes into neighborhood creeks that flow to the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller with-out any treatment! All of these water collection devices are part of the storm sewer or drainage system.


An illustration showing how rainwater and water from homes get to the sanitary treatment facilities and rivers.


What are Point and Nonpoint Source Pollution?

Polluted water coming out of a pipe from a factory or sewage treatment plant is an ex-ample of point source pollution. On the other hand, pollution that washes off the land during rainstorms is called nonpoint source pollution, because it comes from many places and cannot be traced back to one point. If pesticides or fertilizers are over-used or incorrectly applied, rainfall or snow-melt will wash them into the storm drainage system, which sends them to a neighborhood creek, then to the Illinois River.


Examples of Nonpoint Source Pollutants:

  • fertilizer
  • pesticide
  • motor oil
  • gasoline
  • antifreeze
  • paint
  • sediment (soil) 
  • paint thinner 
  • pet waste
  • soap
  • litter (trash)
  • grass clippings


Help Clean Up the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller:

  • Recycle oil, antifreeze, batteries, pesticides, fertilizers, paint and other household pollutants. Call Solid Waste Institute for details (back panel).
  • Test your lawn and garden soil before applying fertilizer. Call County OSU Extension for details.
  • Follow instructions carefully when applying pesticides and disposing of the containers.
  • Report incidents of illegal dumping to the OK Dept. of Environmental Quality Hotline, 1-800-522-0206.
  • If you notice sediment (soil) running off into the street, contact your local Public Works or Mayor’s Office. Sediment is the #1 pollution problem in our creeks!
  • Maintain your car to prevent oil and other automotive fluids from leaking.
  • Try eco-friendly products and techniques for lawn, garden, and household cleaning. Call your County OSU Extension office for help.
  • Reduce litter through education and volunteer cleanups. Call the Solid Waste Institute and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission for help.
  • Clean up after pets. Their waste adds fecal bacteria and fertilizer nutrients to the runoff.


Volunteers who provide this brochure are marking neighborhood storm drain inlets. They are part of state and county projects to reduce nonpoint source pollution and improve water quality awareness. They ask you to view your, lawns, driveways, storm drains and bar ditches as if they were the banks of the Illinois River.



Blue Thumb Volunteer Water Quality Project: Blue Thumb Volunteer Water Quality Project logo.


Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission:


Solid Waste Institute of Northeast Oklahoma:


County Conservation Districts and Natural Resources Conservation Service: 

Adair Co.: 918-696-7612

Cherokee Co.: 918-456-1919

Delaware Co.: 918-253-8550

County OSU Cooperative Extension Service:

Adair Co.: 918-696-2553

Cherokee Co.: 918-456-6163

Delaware Co.: 918-253-4332

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