On a recent afternoon I was deep into a stormwater reverie when a coworker suggested I look out the RE Store window and watch some sort of stormwater soap opera happening across the street, in the parking lot of our neighborhood restaurant, the Fountain Bistro & Drive-thru. I watched for a few minutes – water was everywhere, a vactor truck was staged in the parking lot, a man was lifting the cover off the top of a storm drain, and two men where dragging large hoses around. Although I had an idea about what was going on, I put on my raincoat, grabbed my camera, walked over there, always eager to learn something stormwater.
When I got there, these men were looking down into a storm drain, deep in concentration. They are employees of Bayside Services, a company that specializes in pavement sweeping and cleaning stormwater and sewer pipes. They had just received a call from Jill Holmes, the owner of Fountain Bistro, because her parking lot was flooding. Bayside Services provide storm drain maintenance as part of their business. And Jill Holmes cares about stormwater: she hires Bayside to sweep her parking lot every two weeks with a mechanical sweeper and has them clean out her storm drains regularly to prevent clogging and flooding. Even with these proactive steps, her parking lot was flooded, and these were the men for the job.
A clean parking lot = clean stormwater. This might sound strange, but any stormwater nutcase knows this. I was impressed that Jill takes proactive steps to keep her parking lot clean, so I asked to meet with her to have a conversation about stormwater.
Kentucky Fried Chicken has occupied the corner of Broadway and Meridian Street since 1967. Two years ago, Jill bought the property and began transforming it into the Fountain Bistro. As part of her building permit, she was required to install a supersize grease trap, which had not existed during the entire tenure of KFC, when multitudes of chickens were fried here every day. In those days it was likely that kitchen grease and other fluids from floor drains ended up in the storm drain system, not in the sewer system, where it ends up today. Grease traps collect fats, oils and greases (FOGs) and are connected to the sanitary sewer system, which is routed to the City’s wastewater treatment plant. Baker Septic Service regularly cleans this trap to keep it working right and to keep FOGs from clogging pipes.
Bayside Services sweeps Jill’s parking lot every two weeks and regularly cleans out three storm drains in her parking lot (storm drain maintenance on private property is the owner’s responsibility, not the City’s). These days, stormwater is the number one source of water pollution in urban areas of Puget Sound. Pollutants in street debris typically contains salt, chemicals, oil, trash, oil drips, and trace metals. Since stormwater is almost always untreated, keeping these things out of stormwater keeps our local streams, rivers, and marine waters cleaner. In addition to sweeping, Bayside Services inspects the stormwater catch basins and removes accumulated sediment and residue, which helps keep the system draining property, helping to prevent flooding.
So why was the parking lot flooding? Chris Moe, the manager of the stormwater section of Bayside Services, told me that he discovered leaves and tree roots growing inside the stormwater pipes downstream of the catch basin. He also found some chunks of what looked like chicken fat wedged among the roots, about 10 feet downstream of the catch basin. Aha! Proof that in the old days, grease ended up in the storm drain system. He was able to dislodge and remove the grease chucks with his vacuum truck, so everything drains properly now. Chicken fat lasts a long time, and Chris was certain that this stuff was left over from the old KFC days.
The Fountain Bistro staff wash out all the rubber mats from the kitchen at a local carwash, which is much better than rinsing them off on the street, because wastewater from the car wash is treated at the wastewater treatment plant. Restaurant mats can collect lots of stuff that we don’t want in stormwater or Bellingham Bay. Jill hires a window washer who doesn’t drip or spill any soap onto the street or landscaping, and her staff use biodegradable soaps. By taking meticulous care of the landscaping, she avoids using chemicals or fertilizers. The staff make sure all outdoor dumpsters are covered and protected from water and rain. All these steps all help keep stormwater clean.
Jill and the Fountain Bistro staff are stormwater heros – and are setting a great example for other restaurants to follow. We applaud her efforts to keep our water clean. Stay tuned for Fountain Bistro’s two-year anniversary next week! I’m looking forward to sampling the specials…fried chicken and apple pie!