Michael Raucci’s storm drain message “Only rain in this drain!” can be found in the center square in York. (Photo by: Jodi Sulpizio, Penn State)
Pollution from stormwater runoff is one of the number one causes of water pollution in the United States. Because water quality is a concern for many citizens, the Master Watershed Stewards in York County partnered with the City of York, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, PA Office and the Watershed Alliance of York and started the Street 2 Creek Storm Drain Art Project. A contest was held this summer, and several artists submitted various storm drain art designs. A panel of judges made up of community leaders judged the artwork using a rubric, and the top three artists were selected to complete their work. The storm drains were then painted in downtown York. Saturday, August 25th, the winning artists were recognized at the Yorkfest Fine Arts Festival.
This project was done to promote water quality awareness, and the partnership hopes to expand the project in 2019. The artwork around the storm drains will raise citizen awareness and will help educate the public about the connection between storm drains and local creeks. Most people are unaware of how land use and daily activities impact water quality.
Stormwater runoff is rainwater or snowmelt that has not infiltrated into the ground and runs across the land carrying pollutants with it. Storm drain systems have been designed and put in place to carry this runoff from streets to waterways to prevent flooding. Curbs, gutters, catch basins, drain pipes and flood control channels make up the systems. Water moving through these systems is not treated before it is discharged to lakes, streams and rivers. They are different than sanitary sewer systems. Sanitary sewer systems carry runoff to treatment plants where the water is treated and cleaned before it is discharged. Because the water is not treated or cleaned in the storm drain systems, they are pathways for many pollutants entering the waterways.
Nonpoint source pollution is polluted runoff that is generated over wide areas and is difficult to pinpoint. It is the major source of pollution in rivers in the United States, making up 65% of water pollution. Runoff in agricultural areas is a major source of water pollution. However, stormwater runoff in urban areas is the fastest growing form of water pollution. Impervious surfaces like rooftops, parking lots, sidewalks and roadways prevent rain and snow from infiltrating into the ground. Large amounts of water rapidly runs off these surfaces into storm drains. In a natural environment, precipitation is slowly absorbed into the ground by plants resulting in natural stream flows and good water quality. Examples of urban stormwater pollution are as follows:
- Lawn and garden chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides
- Viruses, bacteria and nutrients from pet waste and failing septic systems
- Road salts from de-icing
- Sediment from construction
- Trash and litter
- Household chemicals from improper disposal
- Automotive fluids
- Soap from car washing
- Pool and Spa water improperly drained
- Thermal pollution from dark impervious surfaces.
Homeowners can make changes and can implement best management practices to reduce polluted runoff. Impervious surfaces can be reduced by using porous pavement and stone or bricks for walkways. Rain gardens and native vegetation can be planted to reduce runoff and filter pollutants. Pet owners should pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly – bag it and trash it! Homeowners should use fertilizers sparingly and sweep up any left on sidewalks and roadways. Store and dispose of chemicals properly. Use a car wash facility that recycles and treats water. Service and maintain septic systems. Check cars for leaks and follow proper procedures when doing automotive work at home. Reduce salts used for de-icing. Reduce the use of pesticides and learn some Integrated Pest Management practices. Drain your pool or spa into a vegetated area – never a storm drain. A very simple task is to keep storm drains cleared of debris and never dump anything down them. By implementing some of these best management practices, everyone can help improve water quality. Flooding, erosion, pollution and threats to human health can all be reduced and are beneficial for humans, wildlife and the environment!
To learn more about stormwater management visit the Penn State Extension Stormwater Management website. For more information on the Street 2 Creek Project, check out the Street 2 Creek website.
For more information about the Master Watershed Steward Program in York go to the York County Master Watershed Stewards Program website or contact Jodi Sulpizio, Natural Resources Educator at email@example.com or 717-840-7429.