Storm Drain Stenciling

Help keep harmful pollution out of your neighborhood storm drains and the Bay.

Storm drains are located throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in neighborhoods, towns, and cities. When it rains, the water that runs along the gutters on your street seems to disappear down the storm drains. But have you ever wondered where the water goes from there? It does not go to a wastewater treatment plant, so no pollution is removed from the water. Any substance that goes into your storm drain goes directly into a local stream or river, which eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

Your neighborhood waterway is linked to the Chesapeake Bay. You can help clean up the Bay by stenciling the words "Don't Dump—Chesapeake Bay Drainage" on storm drains in your area. (Stencils available at See sidebar for more stencil resources.) This message will help members of your community remember that nothing but rain water should enter the storm drains. We are asking individuals and groups to help spread the word. Storm drains are not trash cans. Whatever is dumped into them ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

Items That Frequently End Up in Storm Drains

FACT: One quart of oil can contaminate up to 250,000 gallons of water and create an oil slick two-acres in size.









Materials Needed for this Project

  • Stencils: "Chesapeake Bay Drainage" and "Don't Dump"
  • Beige or white background outdoor latex paint (1 quart = 20 drains)
  • Green CFC-Free spray paint. (1 can = 6 drains)
  • Three-inch paint brushes
  • Wire brushes
  • Masking tape
  • Dropcloths (old sheets work best)
  • Paint stirrers
  • Screwdriver to open paint cans
  • Large cans with one end cut out for cleaning brushes
  • Newspaper and rags
  • "Wet Paint" signs

Securing Permission

Obtain permission from the county or city department that maintains the storm drains. This is usually the Department of Public Works. Call with the following information:

  • the neighborhood where you want to do the project
  • the message you are painting on the storm drains ("Chesapeake Bay Drainage" on the vertical side or gutterface, "Don't Dump" on the horizontal side or catch-basin)
  • who is participating in the project
  • who will supervise the project

Follow up with a letter if necessary and allow six to eight weeks for written approval.

Obtaining Stencils

In Maryland

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has an education program for storm drain stenciling. Download the stencil registration form, or contact Mrs. Stacy Epperson or 1-877-620-8DNR ext. 8775.

Montgomery County, Md.:
Ms. Diane Davis, Montgomery County Dept. of Environmental Protection, 240-777-7714,

Prince George's County, Md.:
Mr. Udomah Ohiri, Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources, 301-883-5829

Know of resources in Virginia or Pennsylvania? Let us know. Send an e-mail to

More stencil resources

Stencils and project ideas are also available on the Blue Water Baltimore website.

Stencils may also be purchased from Signs By Tomorrow

Stencil 1: "Don't Dump" - 4 inch letters
Stencil 2: "Chesapeake Bay Drainage" - 2 1/2 inch letters 

Cost is approximately $65 for the set and can be completed in two days. 

For more information, contact CBF at the following locations:
In Virginia call 804-780-1392.
In Pennsylvania, call 717-234-5550.
In Maryland, call 410-268-8816.

Informing the Community

If the neighborhood or community has a local citizens group, inform them of the project and ask for their support. Design a flyer for distribution to the residents of the neighborhood involving them in the project. Include the following information:

  • Purpose of project
  • Dates of project including a raindate
  • Message to be stenciled
  • Neighborhood or area to be painted
  • Who is doing the project
  • A request for residents to move cars blocking the storm drains
  • A contact person if residents have questions


  1. Scrape area to be painted, using wire brushes to remove rust and dirt.
  2. Place dropcloth in front of drain.
  3. Hold "Don't Dump" stencil centered on the top-face of storm drain.
  4. Place tape along the edges of the stencil.
  5. Paint area between tape with beige or white background paint.
  6. While Paint is Drying: Center "Chesapeake Bay Drainage" stencil on gutter-face of storm drain (one person on each end).
  7. Hold stencil in place and spray paint from six to twelve inches away.
  8. Remember to use a back and forth motion across the letters rather than concentrating on one letter at a time.
  9. After Beige Background Paint is Dry: Center "Don't Dump" stencil on top face of storm drain.
  10. Use spray paint to stencil message.
  11. Attach a "Wet Paint" sign.
  12. Cleaning Up: Remove tape and "Wet Paint" signs from each storm drain.
  13. Clean brushes using soap and water, cans, and newspaper.
  14. Clean stencils using mineral spirits and rags.
  15. Discard used newspaper in trash
  16. Air out and wash rags and drop clothes to reuse.

Participants and Time Required

One stencil will serve a group of thirty participants. Try breaking large groups into teams, and then assign tasks or work in an "assembly line" format. Allow 30 minutes per storm drain including drying time and keep in mind that the more drains you do, the less time each one will take.


We recommend at least four or five chaperones per 30 youth, or at least one supervisor with any group. Watch for paint spilling and paint used for graffiti.

Weather Conditions

It must be at least 50 degrees outside to ensure that paint will dry. Avoid stenciling in high humidity or wind, in the rain, or on wet surfaces.

Questions that require an answer are marked with  *
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 E-Mail Address
 First Name
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