PROTECTING OUR LOCAL WATERS - Keeping storm drains clean keeps pollution out of water

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Decal reminds people not to use storm drains.

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Decal reminds people not to use storm drains.

Protecting and rehabilitating our water resources is a multi-faceted endeavor and takes a coordinated effort among many different partners.

Within the Walla Walla Watershed there are local governments and agencies, state agencies, federal agencies, tribal agencies, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions all working to protect, enhance and rehabilitate the rivers, streams, creeks, wetlands and aquifer that helped give Walla Walla - "the place of many waters" - its name.

Each of these entities plays a role in the effort to protect our water resources. This installment of the Protecting Our Local Waters series will look at the local government role in water quality in our area.

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program under the Clean Water Act is the primary vehicle to regulate the quality of the nation's waterbodies. The Washington State Department of Ecology is responsible for ensuring that NPDES permittees are in compliance.

Both Walla Walla County and the city of Walla Walla are NPDES permittees and must implement a stormwater management plan to comply with program requirements. These plans document measures that will be used to prevent stormwater from degrading local waterbodies.

The role of local permittees in the NPDES program is two-fold. First, the operations of the agencies must not contribute to stormwater pollution. For example, vehicles and heavy equipment must be properly repaired and maintained so that oil, diesel or gasoline does not leak and find its way into storm drains. Accidental spills of chemicals must be properly cleaned up and even washing of vehicles has to happen in designated areas.

The second area of responsibility for local governments is the infrastructure systems that are installed and maintained and the public's interaction with those systems. Whenever a road or street is built, the design must include a method for capturing the stormwater run-off and pre-treating it before it is discharged back into a nearby waterbody.

The street sweeper you see cleaning the streets isn't just to make them look nice; it's a critical tool for keeping potential contaminants from washing into the storm drains. Crews also use a vactor truck, which is essentially a big vacuum cleaner, to go out to catch basins to remove debris that has been captured before it flows into creeks and streams.

To compliment the operation and maintenance of the stormwater infrastructure system, local governments also provide outreach to residents and businesses about how their actions affect the ability of the infrastructure to properly handle stormwater before it reaches waterbodies. A very noticeable example of this can be seen on more than 200 storm drains throughout the city of Walla Walla where decals have been placed to remind people to not dump oil, chemicals or trash down the drain because it will end up in local creeks and streams.

Presentations are given to school children and information is handed out at public events throughout the year by both the county and city stormwater programs.

While it is the goal of both agencies to use education and outreach as the primary means of protecting our water resources, local ordinances are in place to address occurrences when anything other than naturally occurring stormwater enters a storm drain or water body.

An example of this could be when soapy water from washing your car runs into a storm drain or if someone improperly disposes of motor oil by pouring it down a storm drain or into a creek.

A frequent source of stormwater pollution occurs when fertilizers are applied to lawns and rain or sprinklers then wash it off and into storm drains or nearby creeks.

Through a combination of good stewardship, building and maintaining stormwater infrastructure systems and educating the public about water quality, local governments are working in partnership with many other organizations in our area to protect our most valuable resource - water.

Next week you'll learn about the efforts of nonprofits and educational partners.

Protecting Our Local Waters is a four-part series written by local government, education and nonprofit professionals for National Stormwater Awareness Month. For more information or ways you can protect our water resources, visit www.wallawallastormwater.com.

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