Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Working Together For Stormwater



Thirty people recently attended a public tour of the newly installed stormwater facilities included within Bellingham’s Monroe Street repavement project.  This was one of many stormwater tours that RE Sources has coordinated in past years. We’ve viewed an auto recycling facility, a shipyard, a feed mill, a bus maintenance facility, construction sites, a recently covered landfill, a potato washing facility, and a garbage hauling facility.  These tours provide an opportunity to view stormwater best management practices in action, promote information sharing, and inspire people to take an extra step to keep their facilities clean - whether on a residential lot, an industrial property, or a farm.

On the Monroe Street tour, City of Bellingham Public Works staff explained how two new infiltration trenches allow stormwater to be infiltrated into the ground instead of being routed into stormwater discharge pipes and Bellingham Bay.  Paying close attention were business owners, construction workers, engineers, planners, and citizens.  Many had never thought about infrastructure under pavement and others were surprised that stormwater is almost never treated before it’s discharged.  Next, we learned that some of the new sidewalks were made out of a concrete mixture containing glass and porcelain, aptly named “pottycrete.”  The last stop was the best - three large underground stormwater treatment vaults, each containing porous material that filters and removes a variety of pollutants including phosphorus, metals, solids, oil, and grease from stormwater.


Why the interest in stormwater from governments, businesses, contractors, and others?  In 1987 Congress changed the federal Clean Water Act by declaring the discharge of stormwater from certain industries and municipalities to be a point source of pollution. This lead to the requirement of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for many stormwater generating facilities including but not limited to construction sites, municipalities, certain industries, sand and gravel mines, and concentrated animal feeding operations.  These permits are important because they require stormwater dischargers to take important steps to minimize or prevent pollution.  In Washington State, these permits are implemented by the Department of Ecology.

Cities including Bellingham, Ferndale, Mt Vernon, Sedro-Woolley, Burlington, Anacortes, and densely populated areas of Whatcom and Skagit Counties are covered by a municipal stormwater permit.  Soon, the City of Lynden and Birch Bay will also be covered.  The municipal permit requires many steps, including educational outreach programs and rules that require redevelopment work (such as the Monroe Street paving) to contain measures that allow infiltration, treatment, low impact development requirement.

About one-third of Washington's waters are too polluted to meet state water quality standards, and most of the pollution comes from stormwater and non-point sources, such as cars leaking oil, fertilizers and pesticides from farms and gardens, failing septic tanks, pet waste and fuel spills from recreational boaters.  

RE Sources’ North Sound Baykeeper Team is charged with protecting and restoring the marine and nearshore habitats of the northern Puget Sound region. Our involvement in stormwater has been long and varied; from working with volunteers who document sediment pollution at construction sites, to working with the municipal permit holders in Whatcom and Skagit counties on our current project called “Stormwater University,” for which we’ve worked closely with the City of Bellingham to produce education and outreach materials.  We strive to collaborate with local agencies and businesses by advocating and educating for clean water.

We’ve seen industries, farmers, local governments, and citizens in Whatcom and Skagit counties take important steps to protect water quality. Three businesses in Bellingham have recently installed new stormwater treatment systems.  These systems remove metals prior to discharge to our waterways.  Many businesses, especially the places that have offered tours, take numerous steps to ensure their discharge stays within allowable limits.  Farmers have changed their practices to include wider buffers and reduced use of chemicals to protect adjacent streams.

We are proud to work for sustainability in a community that is actively protecting water quality, an essential component of our health and economy. But the key to solving the stormwater problem isn’t in the permits and the rules – it’s in people, how we make everyday choices, and how we live on the land.

3 comments:

  1. It's a great program - getting public citizens out to see how business and governments work to avoid pollution. Keep it up!

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  3. Always nice to see communities come together and take a stand for important issues such as stormwater control!
    -Jon @ inlet filter

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