Down in a Hole

Walking along the road, I came upon a storm drain with the words: “DON’T DUMP FLOWS TO STREAM” with the silhouette of a rubber ducky over the phrase, “PROTECT YOUR WATER.” The signage was provided by Think Blue Maine, which is one of many networks throughout the country that has paired business savvy with ecological sense. number of automotive businesses in central Maine have come together to promote awareness about what goes down the storm drain—from transmission fluid to household pollutants. Auto services make a good role model for other industries because they handle motor oil and other auto fluids on a daily basis, which, if handled poorly, can contribute to stormwater pollution.

Storm drains are supposed to distribute surface run-off to streams, wetlands and other waters and in doing so, prevent flooding across roads. Not all storm drains flow directly into streams; some drains go to sewer treatment plants. The problem occurs when people think that anything washed (or poured) down a storm drain will be treated at such a facility, whereas in reality, some cities re-direct the run-off to streams and rivers. Think of that the next time you go swimming in a local pond, river, lake or at the beach. Local waters receive the run-off from the storm drains, which often have more than stormwater passing through them.

Pollutants such as metals, toxic chemicals, viruses, oil and grease, solvents and nutrients, even human waste get spilled or dumped down the drains and then flow through the pipes out into rivers, streams and larger waters, like the Chesapeake Bay. The town of Ashland, Virginia created a campaign with a brochure about stormwater and how to prevent pollution from disappearing down the drain.

The city of Boise, Idaho has a similar approach to making citizens aware of where the storm drains lead. A character named Eddy the Trout teaches the public about the importance of being responsible for clean waters locally. Watch Eddy the Trout’s TV commercial that educates people about stormwater pollution. The city of Kearney, Nebraska has a handout with good illustrations of ways that people can reduce stormwater pollution in their local waterways:

In some cities, engineers and industry professionals have developed catch basins and drain filters to prevent litter from going down the storm drains. Berms and barriers designed to slow the flow during storms and drain guards installed to prevent pieces of litter won’t prevent all of the pollution, but it’s a start. And it gets people thinking about other ways to prevent stormwater pollution. There are a number of products available to businesses that want to prevent pollutants from spilling down the drain.  Drain inserts look like a trash bag on the inside of the storm drain; inlet filters look like stuffed neck pillows that fit inside the drain and absorb the contaminants. Geotextile barriers slow down the rapidly moving run-off and allow the sediments to settle before spilling down the drain. The Soil & Water Conservation Districts of Southwest Ohio have analyzed storm drain inlet protection methods in a report with a rule of thumb, “if it doesn’t pond water, it doesn’t work.”

For other stormwater pollution outreach materials, go to:

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