Washing Your Car This Weekend? You Could Be Breaking The Law

October 29, 2013

Bad news for cheerleaders at Lincoln High School in San Jose, California: the city's Environmental Services Department has thrown a wrench into the cheerleaders' plans to hold a car wash that would raise money to send the team to a national competition this spring.

The cheerleaders had been advertising their October 20 car wash for weeks via flyers and hand-held signs. The event was meant to take place in the parking lot of nearby Hoover Middle School.

But two days before the car wash, the team sent out an email to supporters saying that the event had been cancelled because the car wash violated the city's water discharge rules.

According to the San Jose Environmental Services Department, wastewater from the cheerleaders' event was going to run into storm drains, in violation of city policy. Water from those storm drains remains untreated, flowing directly into the San Francisco Bay and Delta, harming wild plants and animals along the way.

All isn't lost for the team, however. Though the cheerleaders won't be able to hold their car wash in a parking lot, they could hold it anywhere with access to a sanitary sewer system (like a professional car wash) or anywhere that's landscaped. The latter would be bad for grass and other plants in the immediate area, but the pollutants would likely be contained in the nearby soil, rather than entering the drainage basin.

Alternately, the team could shell out for a waterless car wash system, though that wouldn't come cheap: such systems start around $500, with additional costs for cleaning solution.

Interestingly, the Environmental Services Department's rules only apply to groups, not individuals, so folks washing cars in their driveways aren't affected. However, the Department encourages owners to wash their vehicles on gravel areas or lawns, or at established car washes to minimize the environmental impact. 


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