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Thurston County Stormwater Utility

Storm and Surface Water Utility Services

catch basins drain to salmon-bearing streamsThe Thurston County Storm and Surface Water Utility is a ratepayer-financed program of the Water Resources Program. The utility provides programs and projects to reduce flooding, erosion and pollution caused by stormwater runoff, while protecting and enhancing aquatic habitat. The services are designed to comply with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirements and the federal Clean Water Act.


Thurston County has been one of the fastest growing counties in Washington State. Without proper planning, population growth can irreparably damage the water resources that make our area such an incredible place to live. Basin plans and watershed characterizations address that challenge – they provide science-based data and recommendations that policymakers use to make decisions about growth, development, water-use and environmental preservation efforts.


Thurston County requires developers to manage the rainwater runoff that may result from their projects. Developers use a variety of methods to accomplish this task – swales, ditches and stormwater ponds among them. The goal is to send rainwater into the ground or nearby streams at the speed and volume that best mimics how the water would have dispersed naturally had the development not been built. This helps protect the environment and neighboring properties.

  • The Stormwater Utility publishes and enforces the “Drainage Design and Erosion Control Manual,” which contains rules developers must follow to manage runoff.
  • Staff members inspect stormwater facilities at neighborhoods and businesses to make sure the facilities work properly. They also provide on-site consultation on drainage issues.
  • Free workshops teach residents how to maintain stormwater ponds and meet reporting requirements.
  • Thurston County constructs stormwater facilities to help reduce flooding and erosion in older neighborhoods that were built before development rules were in effect.
  • Staff members provide free on-site consultations for ratepayers who have drainage problems.

Maintaining County-Owned Facilities

Thurston County’s storm drainage system is a network of ditches, pipes, and catch basins that convey stormwater from county roadways and on county-owned property. Federal law requires Thurston County to develop an operations and maintenance program for this drainage system. Among other things, Thurston County must map all of its stormwater facilities, inspect the facilities regularly, and fix any problems within a time period ranging from 6 months to 2 years. (See sample map below.)


Thurston County is required to detect, eliminate and prevent illicit discharges (illegal dumping) in the storm drain system. This includes anything that is not stormwater, such as motor oil, paint, industrial chemicals and septic system seepage.

  • sample conveyance mapThe Stormwater Utility is mapping all county stormwater conveyances, including storm drains, swales, ditches and stormwater ponds. The map will be used to track pollution from a body of water uphill to its source. (Click the thumbnail to the right to see a sample map.)
  • County staff members perform extensive detective work to find sources of pollution. This involves taking water samples, performing dye and smoke tests, and finding visual clues.
  • Thurston County operates a Spill Reporting Hotline for residents who wish to report illegal dumping.

Education and Stream Restoration

Stormwater pollution is caused by the daily activities of people everywhere. It comes from streets, farms, roofs, lawns, parking lots and a variety of other sources. The most important way to reduce pollution is to stop it from occurring in the first place – and that means teaching residents how to care for and restore water resources.

  • County educators make watershed and pollution-prevention presentations to schools (teachers and students), scout troops, homeowner associations and other interested groups.
  • The Stream Team program recruits volunteers for projects aimed at reducing stream erosion and improving aquatic habitat for salmon, steelhead and other species. Volunteers often plant trees and native plants to provide food and shade for fish and wildlife while reducing stormwater runoff.
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Contact Us 

Staff contact: Jim Bachmeier: (360) 754-4275.  E-mail: bachmej@co.thurston.wa.us.

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