Paint the city yellow!

Participants in the YFR Program
Displaying the freshly painted “rainwater only” stencil next to a storm drain as part of the Yellow Fish Road program. Image courtesy of Trout Unlimited Canada.

Are you looking for a fun and interactive activity to carry out in your neighbourhood? If so, consider participating in Trout Unlimited Canada’s Yellow Fish Road program that the City of Burlington has been promoting locally since 2005.

What is this program about?

As I mentioned in my last blog about emptying your pool water the right way, there is a difference between the pipes that drain from your home (sanitary sewers) and those that drain from our roads (storm sewers).

Here’s a refresher:

The water that you use at home to flush your toilet, do laundry, shower, etc. eventually goes to a sanitary sewer and is cleaned at a wastewater treatment plant before being released into Lake Ontario (the red pipes in the image below). Water that is washed into storm drains (also known as catch basins) on your street is not treated and ends up directly in our local creeks which then flow into Lake Ontario (the blue pipe in the image below).

Storm drain versus sanitary sewer systems
A picture explaining the difference between storm and sanitary sewer systems. Image courtesy of Trout Unlimited Canada.

We want you to understand this very important difference and then tell others that only rainwater and snowmelt should enter the storm drains on our streets. As you can see from the photo below, the outlet contains more than just water!

Material caught in an outlet that made its way through the storm sewer system.
Material caught in an outlet that made its way through the storm sewer system.

You can do this by:

  • Painting yellow shaped fish on the curb just above the storm drains in a residential neighbourhood
  • Placing yellow fish-shaped door hangers on the door knobs of local homes. These door hangers have information that explains why the yellow fish were painted.
YFR hangers
Placing fish hangers on the doors of local households to help raise awareness about the newly painted yellow fish in the neighbourhood. Image courtesy of Trout Unlimited Canada.

You might be wondering why we paint yellow fish? Fish, and in particular rainbow trout, are known as indicator species and can act as the “canaries in the coal mine.” That is, once trout stop using an area, it could be an indicator that the water in that area is unsafe for human use.

Did I mention that this program is free? The City of Burlington has five painting kits that are available to community or school groups wishing to participate in the program.

YFR kits
Yellow Fish Road kits that are provided to groups who choose to participate. Image courtesy of Trout Unlimited Canada.

This sounds like a lot of fun! How do I sign up?

Trout Unlimited Canada's Yellow Fish Road logo
Trout Unlimited Canada’s Yellow Fish Road logo.
  • Choose a Burlington residential neighbourhood along with possible dates for painting. We recommend:
    • At least one adult leader for every six children
    • Paint along streets with less traffic and avoid storm drains that might be at the end of one’s driveway
  • Contact Fleur or Lynn at the City of Burlington by phone at 905-335-7600, ext. 7580 or 7931 or by email at
  • Nope, you’re not ready yet. An adult needs to fill in the following paperwork:
  • You’re almost ready.
    • Submit the completed forms by email, mail, fax or in person at City Hall: 426 Brant St., Burlington, ON L7R 3Z6. Attention: Capital Works Department – Sustainability staff. Email: Fax: 905-681-9342

Once we receive all your forms, we will contact you to set up a date to pick up the kits from Burlington City Hall. After your painting event, please return the kits in a tidy condition. Don’t forget to provide us with the number of storm drains painted, fish hangers distributed, the number of adults and children and the age range of the children.

If you would like additional information, download the Yellow Fish Road Program Guide.

Take Action Burlington! Collectively we can make a difference.

RBC Burlington Group
Employees and family members of a Burlington branch of RBC participating in the YFR program. Image courtesy of Trout Unlimited Canada.

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