Tuesday, January 18, 2011
It has to go somewhere
Six days after a Nor’easter dumped one to two feet of snow on
Southern New England, it rained. Hard. Roads flooded with a slushy concoction and utility crews scrambled to find and dig out thousands of storm drains buried under snow.
Each time they did the lives of pedestrians and commuters improved.
But all the grungy, salt-saturated, oily, gritty water that drained into those catch basins had to go somewhere. Most of it flowed into streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, bays and the ocean rather quickly—carrying with it a good amount of gunk and garbage.
And so we come to the big news these days in the world of water pollution control: stormwater management. It’s so important that it now has its own word; in fact, I had to add “stormwater” to my word processor’s dictionary just now.
To better understand its importance, here’s a little of the back story: For over a century, residential and industrial sewage was the big killer of our waterways. But after the Clean Water Act in 1972, billions of your tax dollars went to construct wastewater treatment facilities. In decades, the scourge of sewage waned. Now we have to deal with a more elusive pollution source: Stormwater. Because whenever it rains, collected stormwater pours out of thousands upon thousands of pipes and into a waterway near you. Or, water flows in a free-falling way directly into the nearest body of water.
The problem is so significant that the US Environmental Protection Agency has a whole program devoted to it. States and local communities are working on the issue, too. Or they should be. And for good reason. Controlling stormwater has economic benefits.
The bottom line: If you’re a municipal official, you should read up on what the feds and your state are or will be requiring. And everyone else—you and I—should keep our cars in good shape (to keep our engine oil in our engines and off the ground), not over fertilize our yards (fertilizer is not a good additive for aquatic life) and never, ever litter. Of course there’s much more we can be doing, but we’ll keep to the basics for now.
After all, if we're serious about that little line in the Book of Genesis about having dominion over creation, then we won't be using nature as our own open sewer.