There are monsters lurking around our cities. No, not zombies, but they are just as devastating. These monsters create havoc on our environment because citizens are feeding them.
Please do not feed these monsters. They were not meant to be fed, but we do it every day. They are storm drains along our roads and sidewalks that are supposed to lead rainwater out to creeks and larger waterways. Storm drains are needed, especially with storms like last week’s.
Unfortunately, rain has a dysfunctional relationship with things some of us throw down. Rain’s runoff washes over curbs, sidewalks, ditches, roads, etc., carrying much of the debris it touches. Many everyday items then become "food" for the storm-drain monsters.
Fast-food wrappers, plastic bags and cigarette butts are only part of the problem. Residual pesticides and fertilizers from yards, improperly disposed paints and solvents and automotive products — like oil and antifreeze — can all be washed down storm drains or directly into a stream. Even natural materials like soil, grass clippings, leaves and pet waste can be a significant problem. And those storm drains will eat anything.
In communities where there is development with streets, sidewalks and parking lots, stormwater washes over these impervious surfaces quickly.
Some people actually dump items, like cigarette butts or grease or oil, into drains thinking they are linked to water treatment plants. Not so.
The pollution created is officially called nonpoint-source pollution because it can originate from many different sources, as opposed to possible pollution that might be traceable to a single source like a factory.
So what is the big deal? Unfortunately, this nonpoint-source pollution poses the biggest threat to the quality of water in America.
• Toxic chemicals like automotive fluids and some household and yard products can harm humans, plants and animals. We don’t need this stuff in our water. Just one quart of motor oil that has been improperly disposed of can ruin 250,000 gallons of water, enough to meet the needs of a family of four for a year.
• An abundance of items like fertilizers, pet waste, and even decomposing leaves and grass clippings can cause large amounts of algae to grow in our waters. Algae can deplete the oxygen levels and can lead to fish kills. Animal waste can also introduce harmful bacteria and other pathogens.
• Sediment from soil erosion and construction sites can reduce the clarity of the water and block sunlight needed by aquatic plants and fish.
• Litter and debris, particularly plastic items, can be mistaken by fish and birds as food.
Want to learn more about stormwater pollution? Contact us at Keep Liberty Beautiful at 880-4888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Swida is director of Keep Liberty Beautiful.