Illicit Discharge

Illicit discharges are generally any discharge into a storm drain system this is not composed entirely of stormwater. The exceptions include water from emergency fire fighting activities, and discharges from facilities already under an NPDES Permit. (For a list of permissible illicit discharges, see Whatcom County Code 16.36.050.E, Section S.2 of the NPDES Phase II Permit, or page 8 of the Whatcom County Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Program Policies and Procedures Manual.

Illicit discharges are a problem because unlike wastewater which flows to a wastewater treatment plant, stormwater generally flows to waterways without any additional treatment. Illicit discharges often include pathogens, nutrients, surfactants, and various toxic pollutants.  

Activities that may allow for waste water to enter into a storm drain, ditch, or water body
  • Car washing
  • Pressure washing
  • Dumping grass clippings or other yard waste into public right-of-ways
  • Over-watering of lawns, allowing water to flow into the street and/or storm drain
  • Car leaks
  • Carpet cleaning
  • Cleaning of painting
  • Hazardous material spills
  • Improper storage of oil, pesticides, dirt, fertilizers, or other materials
  • Improper pet waste disposal
  • Erosion of dirt or landscaping materials being swept into a storm drain or water body (including from construction sites)
  • Storm drains not working properly

Examples of what you might see that result from illicit discharges:

  • Oily/greasy sheen on water
  • Foamy/soapy water
  • Muddied water from sediment and dirt
  • Discoloration of water

As part of the NPDES Phase II Permit, Whatcom County has developed an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimindation (IDD&E) Program Policies and Procedures Manual for Whatcom County employees, as well as for the general public to learn about illicit discharges and proper reporting. 

Click here for the manual to learn more about identification and reporting.               IDD&E Manual

Reporting An Illicit Discharge

If you encounter what you suspect to be an illicit discharge during normal business hours (weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) please notify:
  • Whatcom County Public Works (360) 778-6200 (Unspecified discharges)
  • Whatcom County Planning & Development Services (360) 676-6907 (Discharges related to construction and land disturbance activities)
  • Whatcom County Health Department-Environmental Health Division (360) 676-6771(Discharges related to toxics, chemicals, solid wastes, etc.)
  • Stormwater Pollution and Illicit Discharge hotline (360) 715-7460 (All inquiries)
After hours you may leave a message or contact:
  • Washington State Department of Ecology NW Regional Office: (425) 649-7000
  • National Response Center: (800) 424-8802
  • Washington Emergency Management Division: (800) OILS-911 or (800) 258-5900
For emergency situations that include hazardous waste spills, spills of raw sewage, gasoline, or other hazardous materials, dial 911.

General Inquiries: Cathy Craver (360) 778-6200 or email

Soapy water flowing from a downspout.

Soapy water like this is an illicit discharge.

Contaminated wash water entering a catch basin.

Contaminated wash water entering a catch basin. 

Dirty stormwater.

Dirty water full of sediment resulting from human activities, such as land disturbance or construction, is also an illicit discharge.