Don't pour it here! Polluted stormwater gets Jacksonville's attention
by Paige Rentz
Sep 21, 2012 | 4584 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sherry Blanton and Carolyn Patton place a ‘no dumping’ decal on a gutter drain in Jacksonville. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Sherry Blanton and Carolyn Patton place a ‘no dumping’ decal on a gutter drain in Jacksonville. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
JACKSONVILLE — A little bit goes a long way.

That’s what volunteers in Jacksonville hope to teach their neighbors about pollution from storm water runoff.

“We’re going to point out to people that if you throw it in the street, it ends up in the creek,” said Sherry Blanton, the Jacksonville resident who organized an environmental education effort in the city.

She, along with fellow Master Gardeners and concerned residents, met Thursday morning for a project to mark city storm drains and distribute information about preventing non-point-source pollution — essentially pollution washed into waterways from stormwater.

“Non-point source pollution, or stormwater runoff, is the largest remaining source for pollution in the state or nationwide,” said Allison Jenkins, director of the Alabama Clean Water Partnership.

Part of the difficulty with mitigating such pollution is that so much of what people do contributes to it.

“Everything we do matters,” she said, from small actions like over-fertilizing lawns to pouring motor oil and litter directly into the drains.

Blanton was originally inspired to organize Thursday’s event after seeing a presentation by Gail Russell of the Coosa River Clean Water Partnership — part of Jenkins’ statewide organization — to the Calhoun County Master Gardeners. Blanton contacted the city of Jacksonville and County Commissioner Rudy Abbott, who each agreed to pay half the cost of the materials — about $300 for 100 decals that read “No dumping! Drains to creek” and the adhesive to affix them to the drains.

While many people assume that the water that runs into the drains goes into a sewer or treatment system, she said, Jacksonville’s drains actually run into nearby creeks and then eventually into the Coosa River.

“It’s a great project to get people to think about how they are connected to their local streams,” said Frank Chitwood, director of Coosa Riverkeeper. He said this concept of connectedness is integral to the watershed concept his organization has been trying to push.

“The land is just as important to the river as the river itself,” he said. All the water on the land goes to the waterways, he said.

Jacksonville, along with Anniston, Oxford and parts of Calhoun County, all operate under a single municipal separate storm sewer system permit — an MS4 to those in the know — for the county’s urbanized area. The Environmental Protection Agency requires communities regulated under such permits to develop and implement a stormwater management program in order to reduce contamination of runoff and prevent illicit discharges into the system.

Mark Welsh, an engineer for the county and coordinator for the joint MS4 permit, said that to maintain the permit, the county and cities must engage in control measures set forth by the EPA, including public education and outreach and public involvement and participation.

The county, Welsh said, sometimes tries to piggyback on stormwater management education and outreach efforts run by advocacy groups in the Coosa River Basin. Projects such as marking drains in Jacksonville can help satisfy these requirements for maintaining the permit.

Blanton said the group of five worked for about two hours and completed about 25 decals, with one volunteer going door-to-door to distribute information.

“It was harder work than we thought it would be,” she said of the process that includes scrubbing the drain clean with a wire brush and then meticulously affixing the decal, ensuring that it is sealed along the edges.

The volunteers, she said, will keep plugging away at the drains, which number “in the thousands,” according to Stanley Carr, superintendent for Jacksonville’s Street and Sanitation departments.

“As long as the money is available to purchase the decals,” she said, “we as volunteers will continue to mark them and talk to residents about why it is so important.”

Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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