SAN JOSE -- Don't expect to see teens standing on corners waving signs at motorists encouraging them to participate in a school carwash any time soon in San Jose.

While carwashes have become a favorite tool for school clubs, teams, cheerleaders and classes to raise funds for trips, uniforms or supplies, the city of San Jose is now saying stop.

Lincoln High School cheerleaders had to cancel a scheduled Oct. 20 carwash in the Hoover Middle School parking lot along Naglee Avenue to raise money to attend a national competition in April.

On Oct. 17, emails went out to neighborhood e-lists inviting area residents to "please bring your car(s)." But the next day a second email went out reading, "We had a visit from the city of San Jose Environmental Services Department who said that the carwashes at Hoover are in violation of water discharge laws, therefore we had to cancel this and all future carwashes."

Jennie Loft, acting communications manager for San Jose's Environmental Services Department, said the city had indeed stepped in.

"Anything that is not stormwater or rain water is considered a pollutant," Loft said. The ban also applies to washing a car at home.

"If it goes into a storm drain, that pollutant will harm wildlife and habitats in the creeks. Water goes directly from the storm drains into our creeks."

Asked if the city came out in response to complaints, Loft wrote in a follow-up email, "The City of San Jose responded to two complaints, one about a month ago and one last week, re: the Lincoln High School Car wash events held at Hoover Middle School.

"Our staff responds to complaints to ensure that pollutants do not go directly into our storm sewer system since it flows into local creeks, and the SF Bay and Delta.

"As part of our protocol when we received these complaints, our staff reached out to staff at Lincoln High School and San Jose Unified last month to provide information about preventing pollutants into storm drains.

"Our staff also met directly with Lincoln High School Staff last week."

The Environmental Services Department offers these suggestions to school groups wanting to do carwashes:

  • Conduct car washing over gravel, grassy area, or other earthen areas if possible.

  • Ensure that wash water (soapy or not) does not run into a street, gutter, or storm drain,

  • Wash water from paved areas should be collected and diverted either into the sanitary sewer system or a landscaped area.

  • Use different methods to protect the storm drain system. For example, block a storm drain on the parking lot used as a carwash zone, use a sump pump or wet/dry Shop-Vac to collect the wash water and pump it out to the sanitary sewer system.

  • Ensure no soap stains remain on the ground.

    For groups still wanting to do carwashes, there is waterless carwash equipment, but it's expensive. A simple one online from ecotouch.net is $499 with one gallon of wash concentrate another $159.

    Loft said the same restrictions on washing cars that apply to school groups do not apply to individuals.

    "What most people should do if washing their cars at home is park it on the lawn so the water is diverted into landscape," she said.

    "Or go to a designated neighborhood carwash, so it doesn't go into the storm drain."

    She suggested that anyone seeing a carwash draining into a storm drain can call the phone number stenciled on storm drains and, "We'd be happy to talk with them."

    As for the Lincoln cheerleaders, they still need funds and welcome contributions by check to Lincoln Cheer 2013-2014, Lincoln High School, 555 Dana Ave., San Jose, 95126, attention Mrs. Phillips.