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Prevent Pollution when Cleaning Your Building or Sidewalk

City code prohibits the discharge of wash water from cleaning a building or sidewalk because it can introduce pollutants into the stormwater system. Learn about best management practices to prevent pollution and meet City requirements.
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The City's Role

The federal Clean Water Act requires cities to set rules and regulations to protect the city's sewer and stormwater systems and its watersheds. Environmental Services works with business and industry to meet these requirements.

Rules and Regulations

Portland City Code 17.39 prohibits the discharge of wash water into the stormwater system. Discharging wash water may result in investigations, issuance of penalties, and required corrective actions.  

Examples of prohibited wash water discharges include, but are not limited to:

  • Wash water from cleaning pavement or buildings.
  • Rinsing and cleaning spilled materials from pavement following a spill.
  • Wash water from washing equipment or tools.
  • Accumulations of visible floating materials and garbage.
  • Cleaning products or chemicals.
  • Heated water or steam.

Discharges must be collected and sent for offsite disposal or to the sanitary sewer.

Sanitary Sewer Discharge. Discharge to the sanitary sewer may require authorization per Portland City Code 17.34. For a large volume discharge or a discharge that may have pollutants, a prior written authorization may be required for discharge to the sanitary sewer. Contact Environmental Services for assistance.

Allowable Discharges

The City's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit does allow certain non-stormwater discharges to the stormwater system if the discharge does not typically contain pollutants. Routine rinsing of the street, pavement, and external areas of a building (the sides and windows, for example) is permitted provided that chemicals, soaps, detergents, steam, or heated water are not used. Before washing, the area must also be cleaned with a broom to remove excess sediment and visible solids and collected for proper disposal.

Prevent Pollution through Best Management Practices

The following are best management practices to follow while cleaning your building or sidewalk:

  • Clean during dry weather.
  • Sweep up, collect, and properly dispose of all visible solids and absorb any oily stains before using rinse water.
  • Do not use water to remove paint or other solids.
  • When possible, choose cleaning methods that don't require water like sweeping and brushing.
  • Use non-toxic cleaning methods. Do not use cleaning products that contain hazardous or toxic substances.
  • Only use water for a final rinse. Only this rinse water can be discharged to the stormwater system. 
  • Only routine washing without chemicals, soaps, detergents, steam, or heated water can be discharged to the stormwater system.

If the above practices do not work for your project:

  • Make sure all water is contained and collected on your site.
  • Do not allow wash water to discharge into the stormwater system.
  • If stormwater inlets are near your work area, place temporary barriers around them.
  • Capture wash water using a shop vacuum or similar tool and dispose of it in the sanitary sewer.
  • Divert wash water to a sanitary sewer drain or a vegetated or unpaved area on your property. Do not divert onto any onsite stormwater management facilities.

Failure to implement applicable best management practices may result in the discharge of pollutants which is a violation of Portland City Code. The City will issue enforcement action in the form of a civil penalty if pollutants are discharged from your facility. Appropriate measures to prevent the discharge of pollutants are required.