Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Get Ready for Stormwater Kids

Citizens in Bellingham are largely unaware of the effects of stormwater pollution and their contribution to it. Well, that’s about to change.  One of the Baykeeper’s newest projects is the Neighborhood Clean Water Project.  This project began last year, when RE Sources staff and interns collected data from two downtown
stormwater outfalls.  The samples showed high levels of metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from stormwater outfalls that drain downtown areas of Bellingham.   If you’re having difficulty tracking on what a stormwater outfall to the Bay looks like, here’s one of the big ones, at the terminus of C Street.

Baykeeper staff  chose to sample copper, zinc, and PAHs in stormwater because they are toxic to marine life, they are not routinely sampled by other agencies, and because they are known components of urban stormwater.  PAHs are widespread, complex organic pollutants that are found in fossil fuels, and are formed by incomplete combustion of wood, coal, and diesel fuels.  Like metals, they are common in urban stormwater and have been found in increasing concentrations in rapidly urbanizing areas.  They are carcinogenic to laboratory animals and are acutely toxic to some fish species. 

Here's our crew of university interns collecting samples from the C Street Stormwater Outfall.  We’re all smiles, but this place is not easy to access, and the water smells awful.  We sampled this spot three times, once at low tide in the middle of a cold winter night. 

Last month we held a kickoff meeting for our newest citizen engagement project called the Neighborhood Clean Water Project.  We presented our findings to a group of engaged citizens from the Columbia, Lettered Streets, and Broadway Park neighborhoods, and asked for ideas about how to reduce stormwater pollution.  We loved their ideas, and we’re running with them.

Idea #1:  Get kids involved!   No time was wasted, Columbia Elementary teachers quickly offered up 4th and 5th grade students, who  labeled 60 storm drains in the Columbia neighborhood.  The permanent markers say "NO DUMPING - DRAINS TO BAY" and in small letters is the City's stormwater hotline number 778-7979 (call this number if you observe people dumping anything but water into a storm drain). These kids worked hard, are enthused about stormwater, and their parents will soon become more educated about stormwater.  Thanks kids and beware to any parents who attempt to suds up their car in an area that drains to a storm drain. Let's get all the storm drains labeled!

Idea #2:  Recruit volunteers willing to become “stormwater stewards” in their neighborhoods.  Three volunteers have stepped forward, they’ll be headed out to talk with folks in the Columbia neighborhood about stormwater.  Prepare to become familiar with your storm drain.  Look for folks wearing bright orange vests that say “Stormwater Steward.”

Idea #3:  Present information about the Neighborhood Clean Water Project at neighborhood association meetings throughout the City.  We’re on it – we’ve been to the Padden Creek Association Meeting, we’ve got dates for two future meetings, and we’re looking for more opportunities to spread the word.

Idea #4:  Conduct “Don’t Drip and Drive Events” this summer.  These are events where volunteers provide free car leak checks.  We’re planning these events, and the City Stormwater staff will help us.  Got ideas for locations?
If you have ideas – we want to hear them.  Please consider attending our next brainstorming meeting:  Wednesday May 21, 5-6pm, at RE Sources.  For more information, contact Lee,

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