On any rainy day, the rain that falls on streets, parking lots, rooftops and impervious surfaces in downtown Bellingham flows into nearby Squalicum and Whatcom creeks and into Bellingham Bay. This runoff - known as "stormwater" - is grayish in color and contains streaks of oil grease, metals, coolants, fertilizers, pesticides, bacteria, sediment, soaps, cigarettes, small pieces of plastic and whatever else ends up on the ground.
Although much of this pollution is not visible to the naked eye, stormwater is the leading contributor to water pollution in urban waterways in Washington. Due in large part to this runoff, thousands of acres of productive local shellfish growing beaches are conditionally closed, and others are threatened.
Stormwater causes a myriad of problems in addition to contaminating shellfish. Water quality in local streams is declining, and is harming or killing fish and other wildlife. Cigarette butts and other small trash litter our waterways. The pollutants from our streets and lifestyles are conveyed into Puget Sound, and they don't go away - they wash up on our beaches where our kids and pets swim and play, and contaminate our food chain.
The Baykeeper team at RE Sources is working hard to combat this pollution. We continue to work with developers, construction contractors, mobile cleaning businesses, boat repair facilities, auto shops and citizens to inspire them to take steps to prevent stormwater pollution. But all of us have a role to play in protecting our waterways.
The plants and animals that live in our rivers, streams and bays need you to help prevent stormwater pollution too. It's easy and here are some suggestions.
If you have a car, wash it at a commercial car wash, and check frequently to see it's not leaking any fluids.
If you use lawn chemicals, carefully follow application instructions and research alternative methods.
Got lots of leaves in the fall? Take them to Clean Green instead of allowing them to reach the street where they block storm drains.
Talk to your neighbors about stormwater if you see them washing their car in their driveway.
Is there a stormdrain near your house? Watch over it, check it often and talk to your kids and neighbors about why only rain is allowed down the storm drain.
Think about replacing your lawn with native vegetation.
Clean up after your pets.
Pick up trash on your street.
Are you planning to do an outdoor job at home or at work that might impact stormwater? Call or contact the City of Bellingham Storm and Surface Water Utility, or the Whatcom County Stormwater Division. Stormwater staff members are excited to help you figure out creative ways to keep stormwater clean.
Attend the next Stormwater University workshop.
Choose one of these steps or make up one of your own.
But most of all, open your eyes and look around next time it's raining - when you follow the water, you'll know where stormwater pollution is going.
Lee First is a pollution prevention specialist with the North Sound Baykeeper Team at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, under contract with the City of Bellingham, is offering two free workshops called "Stormwater Best Management Practices for Vehicle Washing and Detailing Businesses." The workshops will be held 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Wilson Motors Conference Room in Bellingham and Jan. 31 in the Puget Sound Energy Service Center Conference Room in Burlington.
The project is funded by the Washington State Department of Ecology and additional workshops are planned for February and March. For more information on Stormwater University, go online to re-sources.org.