Tag Archives: pollution

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. http://www.thinkbluemaine.org/business/A 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.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surface_runoff 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.http://www.town.ashland.va.us/vertical/Sites/%7B7CD2B061-2700-4C92-86AD-6137417373F1%7D/uploads/%7B501D4B01-CA55-4E4B-B5DB-E49C61C700F0%7D.PDF

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 http://www.partnersforcleanwater.org/ 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:http://www.cityofkearney.org/documents/Public%20Works%20Dept/Stormwater%20Management/Storm%20Water%20Clean%20Water%20Protection%20Program.PDF

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.”http://www.hcswcd.org/services/ulm/docs/storm_drain_inlet_protection.pdf

For other stormwater pollution outreach materials, go to:http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwatermonth.cfm

Not Exactly a Day at the Beach

Yesterday I cooked out with friends from the Appalachian Mountain Club at Fort Williams State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  Our group shivered in the cool mist and watched a few tourists attempt to swim. It was the first time I’d been to the beach all summer; the last time was in April, on that freaky Sunday when it was in the 80s and people stripped down to swimsuits at Scarborough Beach. I took pictures of surfers and waded in the cold foamy water. But this summer has been so rainy—60 days and nights of rain at least—that many Maine residents and visitors haven’t had a chance to enjoy the beaches. What’s worse, even on the occasional sunny day, numerous state beaches have been closed throughout the nation because of run-off. Those who go despite the warnings and “closed” signs, deal with stinky streams of run-off, dead things, dirty water. Not exactly a day at the beach, folks.

But is the run-off bad for beaches because of the pollution that comes along with it, or is the amount of freshwater run-off the main problem, with effects of erosion as a side-effect?

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) just released a report about this very phenomenon: New Report Offers 5-Star Rating Guide for 200 Popular U.S. Beaches and Analysis Revealing Climate Change to Make Water Pollution Worse For press release, go to: http://www.nrdc.org/media/2009/090729.asp
For the full report, visit: http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp

The run-off problem affects people and wildlife. For example, a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the sea otter population along California’s coast experienced the most alarming decline in a decade. Laboratory tests show the otters are dying off from bacteria, viruses and parasites from urban sewage and agricultural runoff that pollute creeks and coastal waters. See USGS’s June 2009 report here http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2247 and a related NOAA article from 2003, http://www.magazine.noaa.gov/stories/mag72.htm

On top of the run-off problem, beaches are under another set of pressures from climate change, including sea level rise. For various studies and reports on sea level rise, visit ASWM’s climate change webpage, at:  http://aswm.org/wetland-science/climate-change
To visit an interesting blog on this topic, visit:

Check out these related links to stories about beach closings around the country and information on some state beach quality monitoring programs.

Maine Healthy Beaches Program

Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program

Rhode Island Beach Monitoring Program

Iowa Beach Monitoring Program

Oregon Beach Monitoring Program

Mississippi Beach Monitoring Program

Michigan Beach Monitoring Program
Beach Closings in California

Beach Closings in Wisconsin
And for related information, go to:

Beach Warnings in Boston, MA area

Beach Closings in New Jersey

Testing the Waters in CT