Access to clean water is especially important for sanitation and survival during a pandemic, when frequent hand washing and spending more time at home have become a part of daily routine. Since the onset of COVID-19 in North Carolina and across the globe, Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) has seen a 73% increase in past due water bills as well as an increase in household water usage. While OWASA has currently suspended disconnections for non-payments, they anticipate that customers without a steady or adequate source of income will continue to struggle with on-time payments moving forward.
OWASA’s Care to Share program provides water bill payment assistance through a partnership with the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC). Each month, paying customers have the option to add a few extra dollars to their bill that are donated to the Care to Share program. IFC helps to identify households who may benefit from Care to Share and distribute the collected funds to participants. Currently, about 5% of OWASA customers contribute monthly donations to the Care to Share program.
Care to Share (previously called Taste of Hope) has existed in some form since 1997 and has served as a model for other communities and utilities across the Triangle region to institute similar programs. As the need for water bill assistance increases, there is also a push to provide more funding and structure for water bill assistance programs at both the state and national government level.
OWASA customers can sign up to donate through their water bill here. Anyone can also make a direct donation to the Care to Share program through IFC here.
During this time of social distancing and working from home, we have had some beautiful weather! A few weekends ago, I ventured out to explore the Neuse River Basin via 25 mile bikeride. As a new resident of North Carolina, I was impressed with Raleigh’s greenway system which follows several tributaries of the Neuse.
I began my journey along the Crabtree Creek Trail. Crabtree Creek starts in Cary and flows through Lake Crabtree County Park, Umstead State Park and sections of North Raleigh before eventually joining the Neuse near Knightdale. The Crabtree flows through a rapidly developing area in a historic flood plain, which means that even light rains can cause the creek to flood. Evidence of this along the Crabtree Creek Trail include several washouts where sediment has been deposited.
The Crabtree Creek Trail joins with the Neuse River Trail at Anderson Point Park. This was a busy section of trail due to proximity to parking and residential areas. I took a quick rest stop at Anderson Point Park to enjoy the view.
The Neuse River Trail joins up with the Walnut Creek Trail where the Walnut Creek flows into the Neuse River. This section of trail was the most adventurous and scenic, featuring several roller-coaster like bridges and boardwalks that run through the Walnut Creek Wetland Center, Lake Johnson Park, and Worthdale Park. A few lookouts along the way are great places to stop and search for waterfowl, turtles, and other wildlife.
The last section of my bikeride was on the Rocky Branch Trail, which weaves amoung neighborhoods, wooded areas, and more urban stretches. This trail takes you through Dix Park and ends with a gorgeous view of the Raleigh skyline.
This short weekend adventure helped me see my watershed with new eyes. I gained a new appreciation for the role that greenways play in protecting our state’s water resources, connecting folks to outdoor spaces, and managing stormwater. If you’re interested in learning more about the positive benefits of greenways, you can explore The Impact of Greenways in the Triangle document written by the East Coast Greenway Alliance.
How have you been exploring your watershed during social distancing? Drop a comment in the box to the left to share your story with us.
February flowers bring March showers, and March showers sweep litter into our streams. This means spring is the perfect season to get involved in litter prevention, awareness and education in your community. Here are 5 ways you can get involved:
Host your own creek clean up. Not sure if your community has a clean up? Create your own! Stream Watch is a state-wide community science initiative where groups plan two creek clean ups/water quality monitoring events per year. Contact our stormwater education specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org for help picking a safe site, learning how to use the online surveys, and assistance with hosting your first event.
Learn about what happens to your waste. Did you know that Durham and Orange Counties truck their trash over 90 miles away to Montgomery County? Find out what happens to waste in your community by contacting your local government and planning a field trip to your landfill or recycling facility, or check out their website to see if there’s a video.
Promote litter prevention in schools.In Baltimore Maryland, a school-wide ban on styrofoam started by 2 high school students eventually led to a state-wide ban. Organizations like Don’t Waste Durham encourage K-12 education on litter prevention through action projects and volunteering.
Educate yourself so that you can educate others. Chatham County Solid Waste and Recycling just rolled out a new “Don’t Waste It” curriculum for formal and non-formal K-12 educators. Head over to the department page to find out about upcoming workshops or request one near you.
Do you have other ideas about how to prevent waste in your community? We would love to hear from you! Drop a comment in the box below or contact CWEP for more information.CWEP member Hannah helping out at a Clean Jordan Lake cleanup this past fall.
Are you or someone you know a creative Raleigh student? Help us spread the word about the City of Raleigh’s annual stormwater arts contest! By entering this contest, students explore the powerful intersections of art, messaging, stormwater education, and community engagement. Winners receive a $500 prize and recognition as a 2020 Raleigh Environmental Award Winner.
Who: 8th-12th grade students in Raleigh area schools
What: a video or artwork entry showing how to reduce stormwater pollution and protect local waterways. Artwork should be designed to fit on a storm drain or rain barrel.
When: submissions are open until February 3rd, 2020.
How: Register here on the City of Raleigh site. This page also has more details about submission requirements.
Need some inspiration? Click here to watch the video entry winner from last year’s contest.
Above are some examples of creative stormwater messaging painted on storm drains and rain barrels. If you want to make your own storm drain art design, be sure that it fits within the required dimensions (23.5-inch diameter round or 62.5-inch x 14.5-inch rectangular)
Anyone who has visited or lives in Durham knows that it’s a foodie town. From food trucks, to fried chicken, to vegan soul, Durham is the land-of-plenty when it comes to creative food fusions. It’s also an environmentally conscious place to live. Local grassroots community group Don’t Waste Durham is at the forefront of these movements, by keeping waste out of the system and “creating solutions that prevent trash”.
Along with delicious savory bites, the food industry also produces a lot of single-use product waste. According to the U.S. EPA, single-use food packaging makes up nearly 30% of annual solid waste. Straws, plastic utensils, Styrofoam cups/containers, and even “eco-friendly” single-use items like paper to-go boxes are all potential sources of litter that can enter our waterways through stormwater runoff.
What if we could reduce this threat to our watersheds by eliminating single use items in restaurants? Green To Go (an initiative of Don’t Waste Durham) is “taking the trash out of takeout” through their service which provides consumers and local restaurants with reusable to-go containers. Customers pay an annual subscription fee ($25), download an app, go out to eat/ order take-out from a participating restaurant, and then return their container to a drop-off location. The containers are then washed and returned to restaurants to begin the process again. Using “smart logistics, behavior science, and technology”, Green to Go is attempting to not only eliminate single-use packaging, but build resilient circular economies in the process.
This past spring, CWEP launched a one-click giveaway campaign sponsored by several community partners, including Green to Go. Green to Go offered an annual subscription for their reusable container service to the giveaway winner. Partnerships like this help CWEP reach a broader audience who might not otherwise know about our work in the region, while also promoting local businesses who are working towards more resilient communities. We look forward to featuring more local businesses like Green to Go in future CWEP giveaways, and expanding the reach to include local businesses from other member communities as well.
To Learn more about the Green To Go Initiative, or to sign up, please visit these links:
Spring is finally here! And with Spring comes lots of parties, celebrations, graduations, birthdays, weddings, fairs, and more! Balloons are commonly used around the world to celebrate many of the occasions listed, however, when your balloon disappears into the sky, where does it end up going?!
What goes up must come down! Balloons may look nice, but they have a number of environmental concerns associated with them. Balloons are hazards when they enter the environment and our waterways. All released balloons, whether they are released intentionally or not, return to Earth as litter. And when it rains, all litter and trash end up down the stormdrain- which in turn lead to our waterways.
Balloons kill countless animals, cause dangerous power outages, and affect our water quality. They can even travel thousands of miles and pollute the most remote and pristine places.
Balloons return to the land and water where they can be mistaken for food and eaten by animals. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish and birds have been reported with balloons in their stomachs and ribbons and strings can lead to entanglement, causing death. Beach litter surveys have shown the amount of balloons and balloon pieces found on the beach have tripled in the past 10 years.
Inflated balloons that make their way back to earth or water, pose a risk for wildlife due to the high chance of becoming ingested due to attractive color or their ribbons and tassels forming the perfect trap for animals to become entangled. Sea turtles are particularly at risk because they naturally prey on jellies, which balloons can easily be mistaken for.
Balloons can travel far and often end up riding the world’s oceans or rivers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identifies balloons as a commonly reported source of marine debris. A report found on the website of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) titled Ocean Conservancy Beach Debris Data shows 1000’s of balloons pulled from waterways and the coast each year. The Ocean Trash Index presents state-by-state and country-by-country data about ocean trash collected and tallied by volunteers around the world on one day each year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup.
Cleanups alone can’t solve this pollution problem. Nevertheless, the Ocean Trash Index provides a snapshot of what’s trashing our ocean so we can work to prevent specific items from reaching the water in the first place. It is for that reason that a handful of states including but not limited to California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Virginia have recently passed legislation restricting the release of balloons.
What Can I Do to Help?
There are many alternatives that will not pollute the Earth or harm animals. We can opt for reusable party & advertising décor – banners, flags, ribbon dancers, pinwheels. For memorials & fundraisers, we can plant trees, gardens or build birdhouses – actions that promote life. Perhaps organize a clean-up in a loved one’s honor or blow bubbles. Sky Lanterns are NOT a good alternative. Sky lanterns are an uncontrollable fire hazard and have sparked massive wildfires and structure fires. Falsely marketed as biodegradable, the chemically treated paper, bamboo ring, metal wires, and fuel cell can last over a year- polluting the planet & risking harm to other lives. Animals have become entangled in them or have ingested the metal parts.
Protesting or stopping a balloon release is another option. Below are some tips on how to go about stopping a balloon release:
Do your homework! Check to see if balloon releases are illegal in the area. Mylar/foil balloons have a “warning” on them saying they should not be released outdoors because of their conductivity.
Contact the organizer. Private message or email may be better. Offer alternatives. Click here for form letters and ideas.
Contact the venue/location.
Contact city officials. City Manager, Mayor, Parks & Recreation/whoever has jurisdiction of the venue/location. If it’s a sky lantern release, also contact the fire department.
Earlier this month, CWEP kicked off the Spring one click give-away digital campaign. Through partnership with Spectrum, our aired 30 second PSA video will re direct traffic to our website. This is a great incentive for environmentally-minded viewers to learn more about how to keep our waters clean and safe by heading to our website to learn more! The campaign will run until July, which is when winners will be announced. You can view this 30 second video here.
We would like to thank our local and green minded sponsors which include Spiffy, Green To Go, Fillaree and The Produce Box. Without you, this wouldn’t be possible! We are confident we will reach a large number of participants and encourage the public to view and interact with our stormwater education message as well as learn more about our valuable sponsors!
You can read more about the campaign and learn how to get involved here!
With over 10 million people living in the state of North Carolina, state residents’ day to day activities have an impact on water quality. Stormwater is surface runoff that does not soak into the ground during precipitation events (drizzle, rain, snow, and hail). As stormwater flows over neighborhoods, businesses, and streets, it picks up the trash, cigarette butts, pesticides, motor oils and other contaminants accumulated on hard surfaces and deposits them into our local creeks, rivers, and the ocean UNTREATED! Stormwater runoff is the #1 source of water pollution and the biggest threat to water quality in the state.
So what can you do? Here are some easy ways you can improve water quality this spring!
1. Don’t Over-Apply Fertilizer! Why?
Premature Plant Death
Over-application of synthetic or chemicals fertilizers can increase soil salinity and root burn in the long run, which may result in your plants not being able to properly absorb water and nutrients in the soil, leading to their untimely demise. Overuse of synthetic fertilizer can also disrupt soil chemistry and actually do damage to soils.
Harmful to Aquatic Life and Humans
When excess fertilizer gets into our storm drain system and travels into our waterways and oceans, algae blooms can form resulting in a loss of oxygen in the water. Algae blooms pose a direct threat to aquatic animals, which need to breathe just like we do!
A well-maintained, natural lawn care system requires little to no fertilizer. Talk to your local garden center about how to care for your landscape and if you must fertilize, what products you can purchase that are organic and environmentally friendly.
2. Sweep, Don’t Hose!
Sweep around your house and driveway vs. hosing to clean away the accumulated dirt and debris. When you sweep, pick up the debris and place it into the appropriate trash receptacle. Potentially impactful items and debris picked up and placed in the trash are less likely to get into the storm drain system and degrade water quality.
3. Take Your Car to A Car Wash
Spring is a great time for cleaning up inside and outside the home. However, when you spruce up your car, think of going to a local car wash vs. hosing it down at home. This actually saves water and reduces runoff to our waterways that contains soap and debris.
A standard garden hose uses about 10 gallons per minute. If you wash your car for 10 minutes, you might consume 100 gallons of water. While hosing with an automatic shut-off valve may save more water, it’s still recommended to take your car to a commercial car wash that can properly dispose of harmful runoff (debris, oil, harmful soaps, etc.). Commercial car washes also have sophisticated reclamation systems that enable them to re-use water, so they only expend approximately 9-15 gallons of water during any given wash cycle.
4. Plant Native Plants
Native plants are the foundation of a natural ecosystem. They provide biodiversity and give critters ample food and habitat, creating a sustainable ecosystem in your yard. Native plants also thrive in their “home” environment, requiring less water to thrive. Check out this list of North Carolina’s recommended native species here!
5. Make Your Landscape Water-Friendly
Consider installing green infrastructure practices like permeable pavers, rain barrels, French drains, bioswales, or reducing lawn areas altogether. When you use these practices to control the flow and sinking of water in your landscape, you’re helping to keep toxins and debris out of the storm drain system as well as capture water naturally — a WIN-WIN for you and the environment. Check out these Green Infrastructure Ideas, click here.
6. Scoop Your Pet’s Poop!
With warmer weather comes more walks with your fuzzy friend in the outdoors. Always remember to clean up after your pet’s waste and place it in the trash. Pet waste contains harmful bacteria that will wash into our waterways after a rainfall- which there is plenty of in the spring!
7. Drain Swimming Pool Safely
If you have a pool, drain it only when a test kit does not detect chlorine levels. Whenever possible, drain your pool or spa into the sanitary sewer system, where it will be treated. Also, store pool and spa chemicals in a covered area to prevent leaks and spills to the stormwater system.
In 2018, the City of Raleigh’s 2018 Capture it! Stormwater Arts Contest was a huge success! This annual contest is an opportunity for students in 8th through 12th grades to capture the importance of stormwater runoff through art and film. This will ultimately bring more awareness to the positive impacts the community can have on the environment by keeping waterways clean! In 2018, winners for three categories were announced at the 11th Annual Environmental Awards this past March. A photo of last year’s rain barrel winners are shown below.
Students in 8th– 12thgrades who attend school within the City of Raleigh, Raleigh extra territorial jurisdictions (ETJ), or the utility service area
Create a film or artwork that shows how the community can reduce pollution to Raleigh’s streams and lakes. This brings more awareness to the importance of protecting local waterways by keeping trash and other waste out of storm drains.
Winners in each category will receive a $500 prize and will be recognized at the 2019 Raleigh Environmental Awards for creating a 60-second video or painting/drawing for a rain barrel or storm drain cover.
As Americans prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, many parts of this country are still facing water shortages and drought. Thanksgiving is a good time to practice indoor water conservation and below are a few ideas on where to start!
The Great Thanksgiving Flush
After Thanksgiving dinner, approximately 30 million Americans will watch football. At halftime, American toilets will flush 30 million times and use 108 million gallons of water – enough water to fill an entire football stadium! Water efficient toilets would save 62 million gallons of water.
Tips for Thanksgiving Day Water Conservation
Clean vegetables in a sink or pan partially filled with water rather than running water from the tap.
If you wash dishes by hand, rinse them in a sink partially filled with clean water instead of under running water.
Cut down on the amount of rinsing you do before loading the dishwasher. Most modern dishwashers do an excellent job of cleaning dishes, pots and pans all by themselves.
Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator instead of running it under tap water.
For fluffy potatoes, use a little water- not a full pot.
Use charms or labels to cut down on extra glasses.
Wash full loads in the dishwasher with environmentally friendly detergent.
For black Friday, apply for a water saving rebate online!
Don’t Pour that Grease Down the Drain!
During these coming holidays, cooking will be a major priority for many households and restaurants across the country. Almost all cooking involves the use of cooking fat such as grease and oils. Most of us are aware they go a long way in ensuring the foods we enjoy are appeasing to our taste buds. However, if not properly disposed of, they can take a destructive toll on the environment and your piping system.
After you’ve finished cooking your favorite holiday turkeys and hams, it’s easy to dump the excess grease and oil down the drain without giving it second thought. It’ll just get washed away, right? Well, not exactly.
When fats, oils and grease are dumped down the drain, it forms large, thick grease balls that clog pipes. Clogged pipes can result in sewer backups and spills, create environmental problems, and even flood home and businesses. Most sources of oil and grease are insoluble in water. Harmful effects on the environment could be sewer flooding in your neighbourhood or pollution in local streams. These fats coat animals and plants with oil and suffocate them by oxygen depletion. This cooking waste also destroy habitats, produce rancid odors, foul shorelines, and clog water treatment plants.
Sometimes people think they can flush grease down the drain with hot water, but that grease quickly cools and builds up in pipes. The toilet is not a suitable solution to pour your grease either. The grease will still harden in the plumbing underneath, potentially leading to some pretty grim consequences.
So what in the world are you supposed to do with it? Luckily, it’s easy to avoid problems like these with simple, free, cheap alternatives that can help you get rid of leftover cooking grease safely and responsibly. For starters, using less fat to begin with means you have less to dispose of after cooking. Sometimes, the spray cans allow for minimal, more controlled use during cooking. Instead of discarding grease and oil down the drain, dump it in a cup or jar, wait for it to cool, and throw it in the trash, as shown in the image below. Even a small amount of oil dumped down the drain can build up over the years and wreak havoc on not only your drainage and sewer system, but your local water quality and environment.
Here are some simple ways to reduce the amount of fat used when you cook this Thanksgiving:
Instead of deep frying, roast or broil in the oven, shallow-fry in a pan on the stovetop, or use the grill.
When sautéing, decrease the amount of fat a recipe calls for (use a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon, for instance).
Replace oil or butter with small amounts of water or stock. Add a little at a time to keep food moving and browning in the pan without steaming.
Measure fats instead of free pouring them.
Trim visible fat on cuts of meat (and put the trimmings in the trash or give them to your dog or cat).
Choose leaner meats at the market.
Steam vegetables instead of sautéing.
Once you’ve poured out the grease properly, make sure to wipe out your pots and pans with a paper towel to remove any grease that might be stuck to your cookware. Be sure to do the same with plates!
Use leftover fat for future cooking and repurpose your cooking grease.
Turn it into other things: From candles to dog treats, there are lots of ways you can put leftover cooking fat to use around the house, in your yard, and even in your car.
If you don’t want to re-use your grease at home, some areas offer recycling programs for safe cooking oil disposal. Check if your municipality has a grease recycling program like Durham, which accepts and recycles cooking oil free of charge.
As for toilets, remember that only toilet paper should be flushed. Most wet wipes are not meant to go through our pipes and sanitary napkins and tampons should never be flushed either. We are fortunate that our sewage treatments systems are top-notch, but that doesn’t mean we should overload them. When in doubt, throw it out!
While petroleum spills capture all the attention, it’s clear the potential harm grease and oils can have is significant. This holiday season, make sure to keep our stormwater clean and our stormwater systems functioning at peak efficiency by keeping it out of the drain.
Let Us Give Thanks!
It is widely known how important water is to our lives and the world we live in. As stated earlier, our planet is comprised of about 70% water, making it seem like it is easily accessible and plentiful. However, when you rule out our oceans and ice caps, less than 1% of all the water on Earth is drinkable. Safe drinking water is a privilege we often take for granted while we brush our teeth or drink a glass of water in the morning. While we are giving thanks to our family, friends, and food during Thanksgiving, we should also give big thanks for our clean drinking water and the people who make it happen!
Keeping yourself hydrated can do wonders for your health. The benefits water provides for our bodies range from relieving headaches, flushing toxins out of the body, improving mood, helping with weight loss, and relieving fatigue. In the U.S., we are fortunate enough to have some of the cleanest drinking water anywhere in the world to keep us healthy and safe. In other countries that is not the case. Many do not have access to sufficient drinking water and the water they do have often contains dangerous pathogens. Often, unclean water sources are miles from villages and some people are forced to spend hours each day simply finding and transporting water. With so many people not having access to clean drinking water around the world, it is important to appreciate the plentiful and safe drinking water we have here in America.
A Special Thanks for the People Who Make Our Water Safe!
When looking at America’s clean water, it is especially important to give special thanks this Thanksgiving to the water and wastewater utilities that work nonstop to give us some of the cleanest drinking water in the world. Despite the fact that our country has beautiful rivers and lakes, the water that comes from them to our taps goes through several processes that require a lot of work and maintenance. Our water and wastewater utilities maintain some of the highest standards in the world when it comes to drinking water, and new innovations for treatment and distribution are always being researched and implemented. Water and wastewater employees work tirelessly to meet regulatory requirements and preserve local waterways despite major setbacks like deteriorating infrastructure and shrinking funding for necessary projects. On top of treating our water, utilities are responsible for keeping their distribution systems running efficiently and also to being stewards to the environment through improving effluent quality. Our water utilities are arguably the most important utilities in the nation because water is so crucial to our survival. Check out the visual diagram below of water and wastewater distribution systems.
We are so incredibly fortunate here in the United States to not have to think twice about the purity of water from the tap, a glass of water in a restaurant, a highway rest stop, an airport, or motel – all thanks to our water and wastewater utilities. For that, we should be especially thankful. This Thanksgiving, be sure to give special thanks for having safe drinking water and to the dedicated, hard-working people at water and wastewater utilities.