Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Above and Beyond – City of Bellingham’s Monroe Street Stormwater Retrofit!

I live in the Columbia neighborhood of Bellingham, so I’ve noticed all the construction, heavy machinery, and placement of new pipe along Monroe Street.  Last week several large concrete vaults and one giant metal box got dropped off along the sidewalk.  When nobody was looking I clung to the edge of one of the vaults to see inside – it’s a stormwater treatment unit!  I got really excited, and called the City of Bellingham Storm and Surface Water Utility staff to get my questions answered.  Here’s what I found out.

Aged water main, stormwater pipes, and hydrants have been replaced along Monroe Street.  Before this area gets repaved, the stormwater treatment vaults and several underground stormwater infiltration trenches will be installed.  According to City code, any projects that have more than 5,000 square feet of "pollution generating impervious surfaces" are required to provide water quality treatment best management practices, such as these stormwater treatment vaults.

Here’s what the inside of a concrete stormwater vault looks like (above). Stormwater from my neighborhood streets and sidewalks flows into catch basins and into pipes, and into these vaults, where it is filtered through plastic canisters.   Inside the plastic canisters are pelletized deciduous leaves, which are called CSF media.  The media removes soluble metals, suspended solids, oil, and other materials from our stormwater.  The canisters will be inspected regularly, and the media replaced periodically.

Craig Mueller, a stormwater engineer with the City of Bellingham, told me the best is yet to come.  Sometime soon, a couple of large infiltration trenches will be installed to encourage stormwater infiltration into the ground, keeping it out of the stormwater system.   A stormwater infiltration facility will soon be installed underground near the Fountain Plaza - this effort is a voluntary retrofit by the City.

The City has installed many of these treatment and infiltration systems, and has gone above and beyond what was required for this project.  Most of these facilities are underground and don't get noticed.  Now it’s time for us to do our part.  Like what?  Install a rain garden.  Route your roof water into a permeable area of your yard instead of onto streets and gutters.  Check your car to make sure it doesn’t leak oil.  Wash your car at a car wash, not in your driveway.  Don't let any dirt or sediment from your property enter storm drains.  Become familiar with the stormwater catch basins in your neighborhood, and talk to your neighbors who wash their cars or litter – try to educate them about the importance of clean water.  Attend our next Watershed Walk!

Our next Watershed Walk is on May 12, at 10:00, in the Birchwood neighborhood.  Come see how Bellingham Technical College (BTC) manages stormwater, and meet people who’ve installed rain gardens and rain barrels.   We’ll meet in front of Building G at BTC.  See you there!

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