Car Wash Pollution Solutions

Aug. 4, 2009

About the author: Aimee Norman is Business Environmental Resource Center manager of River-Friendly Fundraiser Carwash Program. Norman can be reached at 916.649.0225 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Every community has them—the corner car wash powered by an energetic but funds-starved local school, sports team or youth organization. The car-washing wastewater runoff flows freely to the nearest storm drain inlet on its way to local creeks and rivers—dirt, grease, soap and other pollutants included—where it poses a threat to fish and other aquatic life. In addition, the polluted wastewater detracts from residents’ ability to use natural waterways for swimming, boating, fishing and other recreational activities.

The hundreds of fundraiser car washes that are held over the course of a season in one metropolitan area can significantly contribute to water body pollution. When all the car washes from several metropolitan areas eventually drain to the same major creeks and rivers, the problem is multiplied further.

So, how do a community and its local storm water regulatory authorities act creatively, practically and effectively to prevent this type of pollution, while still supporting the needs of youth fundraiser groups? One California group offers its outline for success:

River-Friendly Fundraisers

The River-Friendly Fundraiser Carwash Program (RFFCP) was developed by the Sacramento Stormwater Quality Partnership (SSQP) to help facilitate successful fundraiser car washes while protecting local water bodies from related pollution. The RFFCP defines river-friendly car washes as those that divert wastewater to a sanitary sewer system or landscape area, preventing discharges to the storm drain system so as not to contribute to pollution in a community’s waters.

The goals of the RFFCP are to:

  • Provide community outreach and education about the potentially harmful effects of wastewater discharges from traditional fundraiser car washes to the storm drain system;
  • Promote practical and effective river-friendly car washing practices that help reduce pollution while supporting fundraiser group activities;
  • Connect fundraiser groups with RFFCP partners that can help them host successful events; and
  • Help keep local waters healthy and free of pollution.

How RFFCP Works

The RFFCP acts as an online, self-service resource for connecting fundraiser groups with participating partners, including commercial car washes, parks, schools and other businesses, all of which provide complete contact information. Partners sign up for the RFFCP and indicate the methods by which a fundraiser group can utilize their services or facilities to host a river-friendly car wash, including any special programs that may be in place for fundraiser groups.

Fundraiser groups can search the partners list by various criteria, including facility type, fundraising options and location, to find an option that will best work for their purposes. Fundraiser groups are encouraged to work with RFFCP partners in their car wash activities; when this is not feasible, they are advised to follow specific guidelines, including best management practices, wastewater containment and disposal procedures, to ensure that all car washing activities are conducted in a water-friendly manner.

Partners benefit from participating in the RFFCP because they receive free publicity through the group’s website; can market their businesses as environmentally friendly and community-oriented; and are issued an official partner certificate recognizing their participation.

To administer the RFFCP, the SSQP—comprised of storm water agencies from the county of Sacramento and the cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento, Calif.—contracts with the Business Environmental Resource Center, a free and confidential nonregulatory compliance assistance center with the mission of promoting business success and enhancing environmental quality on behalf of local government.

For more information, visit

About the Author

Aimee Norman