Measure 3g:  Establish a public reporting mechanism

“Establish and publicize a reporting mechanism for the public to report illicit discharges.”

Citizen reporting can be a highly effective tool for finding illicit discharges. Because illicit discharges occur at unpredictable times, citizens are often able to observe problems that municipal staff can miss during dry weather inspections. In Montgomery County, MD, citizens have found many more inappropriate discharges than county staff. On average, county staff identify and correct about six inappropriate discharges per year as a result of regular screening. By contrast, over 185 inappropriate discharges are corrected each year as a result of citizen complaints and calls to the hotline (Zielinski and Brown 2001).

Two public commonly used public reporting mechanisms are hotlines and web site forms. There are pros and cons to each approach. Hotlines are generally easier for citizens to use and therefore they are more likely to make the report immediately (rather than putting it off and possibly forgetting to log on to a web site). However, hotlines require that staff be available to take the caller’s information at whatever time he or she calls.  

Picture3g.jpgIf you choose to establish a hotline, your staff will need to be trained to direct reports of illicit discharges to the proper personnel and/or agency. Your hotline should include a recording advising citizens what to do if they call during non-business hours. In addition, you could consider adding pre-recorded messages about stormwater, illegal discharges and spills to the answering service. We have included an example of an Illicit Discharge Hotline Incident Tracking Sheet. 

Once they are set up, web site forms can be easier for local government staff because they can view the discharge reports at their convenience. However, citizens who do not have easy access to the internet will have difficulty reporting discharges. See the web site for San Diego County, CA Illegal Dumping Program as an example of successful implementation of a hotline and a web site reporting form.

Regardless of the mechanism used, local government staff must be sure to follow up on these reports and send the reporter a notice of the results. Otherwise, the incentive for reporting could be lost. Many local governments refer calls relating to illicit discharges to the Police/Fire Department, who investigate the complaints immediately. The Police/Fire Department may also notify Public Works for assistance in determining the flow direction of the storm sewer system. You should put a system into place to notify Engineering Services for follow up distribution of public education materials regarding improper disposal into storm sewer system.    

Public education and labeling stormwater outfalls and other storm drain infrastructure is an important element of establishing a successful citizen reporting mechanism. This web site provides specific guidance for public education on illicit discharges under Measure 3f and Measure 1: The Storm Drain is for Rain.