Today my friend Bill asked me why I get so excited about stormwater. He was serious. Because it’s everywhere, and it’s fun to watch. It contains tiny bits of trash, and sometimes little treasures. Sometimes it has sheens, like a rainbow. I’ve always been interested in watching moving water – clean water, dirty water, turbid water, waves, rain, streams, rivers - especially fast water and dirty water flowing into mysterious places, like storm drains. Of course I prefer clean water, but finding dirty water presents a way to solve a problem. Usually there’s an easy way to keep stormwater from mixing with pollutants, which benefits all of us. What is more important than clean water? These words just popped right out of my mouth before I had time to think about how ridiculous I sounded. Bill gave me an odd look.
“You must get kind of bored in the summer, when there’s no stormwater to watch,” he said. Nope. Why just this week, during the hot spell, I discovered two interesting stormwater scenes. I explained these to Bill:
At the first scene, thick brown water seeped from the bottom of large stockpiles of sawdust and mulch. The piles were being watered using an overhead sprinkler system, probably to reduce the chance of a fire. Brown water drained from the paved site towards a ditch, and then continued flowing towards a wetland complex where nobody ever goes. This kind of water is typically high in chemical oxygen demand, or COD. COD isn’t a good addition to surface water because as it is decomposed by bacteria, lots of oxygen is consumed from the water, leaving less oxygen available for fish to breathe. COD is a common water quality parameter at industrial sites. The trickle of water that I observed could be collected, and routed to a place where it would not impact nearby wetlands, or perhaps it could be recycled to water the stock piles.
At the second scene, a person at a boatyard was hosing a yacht using lots of soap. There was a tarp under the boat (presumably to catch paint chips) but the tarp wasn’t stopping the soapy water from flowing into a nearby storm drain. It’s amazing how many people still wash their cars, boats, windows, sidewalks, and countless other objects, and just let the sudsy water flow into storm drains. These aren’t the good old days - what are they thinking? Would they want their kids or pets to drink, swim, or bathe in sudsy water with the grime they're washing off?
Bill correctly pointed out that neither of these scenes involved stormwater. Stormwater is the water running off our streets, parking lots, and roofs. Although stormwater picks up extra ingredients along the way, it is not used for a process like washing or cooling. Process water is water that’s used for a process, such as spraying down mulch, washing boats or cars, or industrial processes. Of course washing with soap might seem benign, but don’t forget that fish don’t thrive in soap or the grit that the soap washes off. Industrial process water contains a mixture of whatever raw materials or chemicals the water comes into contact with.
Got some interesting stormwater or process water stories? We’d like to hear them. And stay tuned, we’re gearing up to offer a new series of workshops, called “
.” Attend one, and maybe you’ll catch the
stormwater bug… Stormwater