Here’s a question from a Road Warrior reader:

I live in Santa Rosa, and wash my new car in my driveway.  I just had a neighbor come over and tell me that it’s illegal to wash my car in the driveway since the wash water goes to the storm drain. Is this true, or is my neighbor just a busybody? James

The answer comes from Heaven Moore, associate civil engineer for storm water in Santa Rosa’s Utilities Department, who says residential car washing is allowed under the city’s storm water ordinance.

But she says the city would prefer residents go to commercial car washes or  wash their cars on gravel or grass so that the ground would absorb the wash water and soap rather than have it flow down a gutter. She says gutters empty into storm drains, which empty into creeks, where contaminants in the wash water could kill fish. She says even biodegradable soap is toxic to fish.

Moore says the ordinance covers commercial car washes and even car washes held as fundraisers, such as those you might see at a gas station. The key is that any runoff must flow  into the city’s sewer system not down the gutter, she says.

If the city learns of the gutter runoff, a city worker will be sent to notify the fundraising group of the ordinance and how to meet it, she says. If a significant amount of wash water already has gone into a storm drain, then state water-pollution regulations require that the city send out a crew to vacuum up the suds and water before they get into a creek, she says. The charity or property owner would be charged for the cleanup, she says.


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