Schools: This One’s For You!

How can I do my part to ensure clean water resources and a greener environment in my school? Many people should be asking this important question! Whether you are a parent, teacher, school staff member, student, or community volunteer, you want your school to provide a healthy, welcoming place to learn. In this Blog, there are several ideas about how educational institutions can take a step towards a cleaner, greener future for our water.

Schools use a tremendous amount of water every day, and require water for their heating and cooling systems, restrooms, drinking water faucets, locker rooms, cafeteria, laboratories, and outdoor playing fields and lawns. Small steps in the community toward water conservation can make a big impact. Integrating conservation efforts in educational program for students makes an impact for future generations. Greener schools also protect the environment, keep teachers and students healthy, as well as promote environmental values in young, impressionable minds.

Reusable Water Bottles

Students and teachers can take reusable water bottles to school instead of buying plastic water bottles. Plastic water bottles are not sustainable when being manufactured, shipped, and discarded around the globe. U.S. landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles alone. Much of the plastic we consume ends up in the world’s water supply, where it is even harder to fish out and safely throw away. Many bottled water plastics also contain toxins that can have a harmful effect on human health. Financially in the long run, your wallet will also thank you!

Recycle!

When you’re able to recycle, you should! All schools should have proper recycling and compost programs to ensure a clean environment. Whether its paper products, food products, plastics or upcycling old items, it’s important to think about which trash can be saved from a landfill.  If you are planning on kicking off a recycling or composting program at your school in the future, it is helpful to know how much of each kind of waste your school produces so you target the right items. There are a lot of reasons to find out where your starting point is- the celebration of your schools success will be that much better if you can measure how far you’ve come! And showing measureable success is the best way to get other school’s on board with your program.

Recycling cuts back on energy consumption and can prevent water pollution in the future. In addition to recycling, composting is a great way to promote a responsible and environmentally friendly way to deal with food scraps and waste. The finished compost product can help enhance the soil and plant quality in school vegetable and flower gardens- acting as a buffer for storm water. Composting food wastes also saves water by reducing the water needed to run a garbage disposal. We can close the loop on the food system by diverting food waste from landfills and turning it back into soil to grow more food.

Energy Conservation

Water and energy are closely linked. A clean reliable water source consumes energy and water conservation leads to energy conservation. The clean water that flows out of a faucet needs energy in many stages of processing and transport before it gets to the tap. A system of pipes delivers water to the school, and in many systems, electric pumping is used to deliver the water at the proper level of pressure. The wastewater that flows away from the school must be transported to a wastewater treatment plant to be treated and released back into the natural water cycle. This also requires energy. The transportation of water is one of the most significant uses of energy in freshwater production. It is important to remember that when you conserve water, you conserve energy as well. Which leads to my next point… water conservation!

Water usage and conservation

Outdoors:

In a schools outdoor environment, a lot can also be done to reduce water use. Water-efficient landscaping helps a school conserve water outdoors. A school can maximize natural, native vegetative cover and limit lawn space. Most native plants can survive on the natural rainfall in the area since they are accustomed to the climate. Maintaining fields using drought tolerant grasses is also important. Consider planting more trees, shrubs, ground covers, and less grass. Shrubs and ground covers provide greenery for much of the year and usually demand less water.  Applying mulch around shrubs and flower beds can help them retain moisture. This reduces the amount of watering necessary to keep the ground moist. Adding compost or an organic matter to soil will improve soil conditions and water retention. Collecting rainfall for irrigation is another important step to ensure water conservation. Avoid using a hose to clean off school walkways. Rather, opt for a broom to clean walkways, driveways, and entrances.

Indoors:

At school or in your daily life, cutting down on water usage can save more water and make a bigger impact than you’d think. As stated earlier, schools use a large amount of water every day, and require water for their heating and cooling systems, restrooms, drinking water faucets, locker rooms, cafeteria, laboratories, and outdoor playing fields and lawns. To reduce water use in the school, consider replacing old equipment such as dishwashers with energy saving devices. Repair water leaks and leaky toilets. Installing sensor-operated sinks work well for kids because the faucets shut off automatically. Using water-efficient toilets, low-flow shower heads and timer shut-off devices to reduce water use during showers can dramatically reduce the amount of water consumed. Collecting excess water and using it later can also help to conserve water in the long run. For example, establishing a rain barrel or placing containers under school water fountains to use in the garden for later are some good ideas.

Student Involvement

Launch a water conservation awareness campaign within the school. Encourage your teachers and classmates to discuss the benefits of conserving water and ways the students can get involved in using less water. A water conservation poster contest allows all of the kids to take part in spreading the news. Choose the best designs and have them turned into permanent signs to hang in the restrooms. The signs serve as a reminder for students to conserve water. Assigning students the role of water monitors during busy restroom times also puts the responsibility in the hands of the students. Teachers can enhance their hydrology lesson plans with relevant, local environmental information. Schools can also take part in community clean-up events, Earth Week celebrations, and water related field trips/events to enforce the importance of water quality for their students. Communities can also organize a tree-planting event on school grounds, or organize a school-ground naturalization project to create opportunities for outdoor learning through hands-on experience.

Talk to your school’s staff and fellow classmates:

All students, teachers, administrators, cooks and janitors should ask themselves if there is a another way to do their job that will minimize waste and impaired water quality. For example, chefs in schools can be informed and avoid pouring fat from cooking or any other type of fat, oil, or grease down the drain. School chefs can try to purchase sustainable meats for school lunch as it is important to think about the impact of factory farms on our water supply. These farms produce huge amounts of waste, which ends up harming the nearby water supplies. Whenever possible, buying sustainable meats instead of those produced at factory farms will make a huge difference on the schools indirect water usage. Administration can come together to put more recycling and trash cans around the school as well as outside to prevent litter build up. It is also important that a schools community avoid disposing of hazardous chemicals or cleaning agents down the sink or toilet. Hazardous chemicals in schools can be found in cleaning supplies, aerosol cans, paints, science labs (mercury), art classrooms, janitors’ storerooms. Classes can also try to use less toxic glues, paints, markers, and other materials.

Stormwater Runoff:

What is Storm water?

When an area is developed, a large amount of impervious area, such as buildings and pavement, is introduced. When it rains, the water that once soaked into the ground is then carried into your ponds and lakes. If it is not managed properly, it can also lead to flooding. Additionally, the water carries pollutants with it, which are eventually carried into your streams, ponds, lakes, and the ocean. Stormwater has a large impact on the water quality and health of your environment.

How can you reduce Stormwater runoff at your school?

  • Parents and teachers can prevent their vehicle’s oil and other dangerous pollutants from leaking onto the schools nearby streets. Rain washes these materials from the streets into the nearest storm drain which is eventually carried into lakes and streams. Car owners can recycle used motor oil, maintain their vehicle to minimize leakage, avoid dumping any engine fluids, such as motor oil, antifreeze, or transmission fluid into storm drains, a ditch, or onto the ground. It is also important to clean up any spills as soon as possible.
  •  Planting native trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants on the school’s property will act as a sponge for the environment and naturally soak up any runoff that is on its way to local waterbodies or storm drains.  It is important to use native plants as they more tolerant of drought conditions and need less water.
  • Building a rain garden can improve water quality in your school’s community and reduce storm-water by collecting and filtering runoff.
  • Installing a rain barrel can collect and store rainwater from your school’s roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff or diverted to storm drains and streams polluting the water. A rain barrel collects and stores water for when you need it most, such as during periods of drought, to water plants, wash your car and more.
  • Be aware of your schools disposal system for hazardous products such as for cleaning or chemicals used in chemistry/science classes. Hazardous chemicals, such as toxic cleaning products and experimental products, contain harmful substances. These chemicals usually make their way into drains, sinks, and toilets, which end up polluting nearby water bodies and the humans and wildlife that depend on them. Schools and teachers can contact their local sanitation, public works, or environmental health department to find out about hazardous waste collection days and sites or local recycling drop off options.
  • Decrease concrete, asphalt and hard surfaces around the school to reduce runoff and try to create landscapes with vegetation, gravel or other porous materials that will absorb rainwater.
  • Fertilizers and Pesticides: Fertilizers enrich the soil with nutrients necessary for plant growth and are used on most school grounds. Chemical or synthetic fertilizers are manufactured using man-made materials are not the best option for the environment. Pesticides are used on most school grounds to kill unwanted weeds or plants, and keep mosquitos, ticks, and other insects away.  Both fertilizers and pesticides have a negative impact on the environment and can pollute local water bodies. They are also toxic to humans, wildlife, aquatic invertebrates, and plants.  Pesticides contain neurological and reproductive toxins, which are dangerous to both children and adults. If the chemicals are applied incorrectly, or are allowed to run off into streams or storm drains, they actually fertilize the water and result in algae blooms. Algae blooms remove oxygen from water which can cause tragic fish kills and severe environmental damage. Garden pesticides can harm humans and pets too, with kids and pregnant women being at the highest risk for exposure. A school can still have great looking lawns and gardens without using harmful chemicals that affect the community’s health, water and wildlife. Schools can opt for more natural alternatives to chemical fertilizers such as composted manure, fish emulsions, alfalfa pellets, bone meal, and cottonseed meal. There are also many great sustainable alternatives to using chemical pesticides. It is important that schools get their soils tested, understand what products they are buying, consider alternatives, use the lawn products correctly, and dispose of the lawn care products efficiently so that they do not ultimately harm local water bodies. Schools should never dump leftover products down the drain or in the trash, as they will be carried directly to creeks. Schools should store leftover chemicals in a safe place until they can dispose of them at a hazardous waste drop off event, or give leftover products to other schools.
  • If your school is close to any streams or rivers, consider planting grass buffer strips or trees along the banks to protect water quality and prevent contaminants, such as fertilizers and pesticides used at your school, from entering the environment and traveling to other locations.

In summary, a school should think about controlling and reducing water runoff from its site, consume fresh water as efficiently as possible and recover and reuse gray water to the extent feasible because basic efficiency measures can reduce a school’s water use by 30% or more. It is also important to note that schools who provide educational opportunities create very valuable opportunities for hands-on learning and the potential to instill environmental values in future generations. These reductions and implementations help the environment, locally and regionally and lower a school’s operating expenses. The technologies and techniques used to conserve water – especially landscaping, education and outreach, water treatment, and recycling strategies – can be used to help instruct students about ecology and the environment.

 

New CWEP Stormwater Video Heading to a Theater Near You this December!

We are very excited to release our new animated stormwater video that we’ve been working hard on over the last few months! This 30-second version of our full-length video will be shown in theaters across the region this holiday season, so tell your friends: If you’re headed to the movies between December 15th and 29th, grab a seat a little early to catch this ad rolling a few minutes before the previews start!

You can find our full-length videos in both English and Spanish, as well as individual pollutant spots you can use at home, at work, or in the classroom on our Resources page.

Spotlight on Zebulon – Stormwater Program of the Month!

Each month we will be featuring the outstanding work that our CWEP Partners are doing to keep our stormwater clean around the region and in your communities. This month we’re focusing on Zebulon and how they’ve worked hard over the last few years to grow their program and educate their citizens on the importance of keeping stormwater clean and green!

Since 2012, the Town of Zebulon has worked to raise awareness of stormwater pollution and ways to prevent it. Below is Zebulon’s clean stormwater mascot, Mr. Drip. They have added him to all of their literature and to their website.

sentientraindrop
Mr. Drip reminds residents to keep the drains clean.

In 2013, the town of Zebulon purchased a new sweeper and wrapped it with Mr. Drip, the “Only Rain in the Drain” slogan, and the reminder to not put grass clippings, leaves, motor oil, or trash in the storm drains. The message is on display every time Zebulon Public Works sweeps a town street, another aspect of keeping non-stormwater items from going down the drain as the street sweeper catches debris before it can enter the drain. “Stormwater” magazine featured their efforts and the sweeper in their June 2013 edition.

magazine clippingZebulon’s street sweeper made the June 2013 issue of Stormwater Magazine

To reach every resident who receives a municipal water bill, Zebulon developed a series of utility bill stuffers on individual topics and sends them out with the monthly water bills. The stuffers are an easy, low-cost way to keep residents thinking about prevention of stormwater pollution and allow us to promote specific ways the residents can help their town keep the stormwater system clean.

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Several times a year, when the Zebulon Public Works department has the opportunity to speak with youths and adults about stormwater pollution, they demonstrate their Enviroscape model. Tony Rose, Stormwater Superintendent, uses the model to show how fertilizers, chemicals, automotive oil and grease, animal waste, pesticides, and trash enter the storm drain system and travel to nearby rivers and streams. Tony offers tips to prevent contamination and preserve natural waters.

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Tony Rose, Stormwater Superintendent, using the Enviroscape model to explain stormwater pollution and ways to prevent it.

Civic group involvement enhances Zebulon’s efforts to educate people and maintain a clean stormwater system. A team of employees from Glaxo helped Zebulon Public Works mark storm drains in several neighborhoods as reminders to keep trash out of the drains. Rotary Club members participated in a litter sweep along one of Zebulon’s busier routes. All of these efforts help to raise awareness of the need to maintain a clean stormwater system throughout Zebulon.

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Glaxo employee marks storm drain to remind neighbors not to dump in the drain and pollute the Little River. Decal pictured below.

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rotary club cleaning
Rotary Club members collect trash along Alt- Hwy 264E to prevent trash from entering the storm drain system and, eventually, the nearby streams.

There’s More Than One Way to Cut a Turkey: Alternative Methods of Grease Disposal

Did you know that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans create 25% more waste than during the rest of the year? Yikes. That’s a lot of waste. And much of that waste comes from cooking, especially grease and fat from our favorite holiday turkeys and hams. As we learned in last week’s blog post, grease can cause a major hazard if not disposed of correctly. 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. You may choose to dispose of grease in the trash or designated grease recycling centers.

However, disposal isn’t your only option for keeping our sewers fat-free. If you’re big into reusing, don’t worry, you don’t have to throw away or recycle your oil — you can use it for future cooking or crafts! You can use leftover grease and fat to make a roux, garnish your soup, sauté greens, or make salad dressings, bread, or pasta sauce. On the craft side, you can make candles, make dog and bird treats, or add it to your compost. For a full list of ideas of how to reuse oil, as well as information on what kind of oils to use for what cooking, check out this page from Fix.com

 

 

(Featured image from the municipal government of Addison, TX. Source)

The Importance of Infrastructure in the face of Natural Disasters

Continuing with our lead-up to “Imagine a Day Without Water”, this post focuses on the recent disaster-related impacts of failing infrastructure from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, some of the most powerful storms to hit the United States in many years. There is currently a capital need of $123 billion per year to close the gap between increasing demand and decreasing maintenance of water infrastructure – and this gap is widening every day.

At the intersection of both negligence and disaster-caused infrastructure lies Puerto Rico. The country, recently hit by Hurricane Maria, has very little functioning infrastructure, and many residents will be without power for up to six months. Therefore, they are without access to water and sewer infrastructure as well. Seeing as Maria was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in almost 80 years, it would be easy to assume that the current infrastructure issues are the result of the unprecedented storm. However, as Dr. Yarimar Bonilla, Rutgers professor and Puerto Rican native, points out in a recent NPR segment, the problem started long before with the government’s decision to prioritize paying off debt rather than performing basic maintenance on the country’s electric, water, and wastewater systems. She notes that much of the damage could have been avoided if the proper maintenance work had been done when it was necessary. Now, with the addition of the storm damage, the issue is much more difficult (and costly) to solve. Listen to the full podcast here.

In Florida, Hurricane Irma overloaded local infrastructure, causing physical damage and health risks. Raw sewage and wastewater flooded the streets as a result of failed pumping stations and backed up sewers. Due to overwhelmed and under-maintained infrastructure, rebuilding will take even longer, as efforts can only begin when the area is “clean, dry, and free from potential health hazards.” The situation in Florida points to the necessity of designing infrastructure systems to fit local needs, such as extreme weather. Read more about the affects of Hurricane Irma on infrastructure here.

Keeping our natural waterways clean is important, but so is making sure our manmade water systems stay so as well. Make sure your local, state, and federal officials know you value investing in our nation’s infrastructure!

Safe, Reliable Water – At Risk!

This blog post was provided by the Value of Water Campaign, which works to promote awareness of the importance of clean drinking water access, and leads the Imagine a Day Without Water efforts. http://thevalueofwater.org/

With all the division in our government, it is easy to forget there are some policy priorities that actually cut across party lines and geographical boundaries. Constituents may have different opinions on health care and tax reform, but they have a lot in common too. They get up in the morning and brush their teeth, use the bathroom, and make coffee. Many of them commute to school or work. They travel with their families on summer vacations and for holidays. They buy groceries and eat at restaurants.

When it comes to the essentials, we really do have more that unites us than divides us, which is why the majority of Americans want the federal government to prioritize investing in infrastructure. Earlier this year, voters were polled on what they wanted the federal government to focus on for a legislative agenda. By a double-digit margin, investment in infrastructure was the most important topic above any other issue. Two thirds of voters said so. And an astonishing 82 percent of Americans said water infrastructure needed to be a top priority. Eighty-two percent of Americans can’t even agree on what day of the week it is!

But if you think about it, water unites all of us. Of course people say it should be a priority. Can you even begin to imagine a day without water? It isn’t just your personal use of water – brushing your teeth, flushing your toilet, taking a shower – though those rituals are vital. Water is also essential to a functioning economy. What is a college campus or a hotel supposed to do if there is no water? They close. How can a restaurant, coffee shop, or brewery serve customers without water to cook, make coffee and beer, or wash the dishes? They can’t. And what about manufacturers – from pharmaceuticals to automobiles – that rely on water? They would grind to a halt too.

An economic study released by the Value of Water Campaign earlier this year found that a single nationwide day without water service would put $43.5 billion of economic activity at risk. But investing in water infrastructure, unfortunately, has not been a priority for decades. The federal government’s investment has declined precipitously, leaving states, localities, and water utilities to make up the difference. Which means it is on localities to raise taxes, or for utilities to charge water rates that can pay for the massive infrastructure system of pumps, plants, and pipes. And the truth is, communities across the country have let those systems deteriorate for far too long.

We saw the tragedy in Flint, Michigan where thousands of residents were affected by tainted water supplies. Water systems in other communities are under threat too, and millions of Americans live in regions that completely lack water infrastructure.

There is no doubt about it – a day without water is a crisis. That is why we are joining with hundreds of groups across the country for Imagine a Day Without Water, because we want people to pay attention to our water systems. This country can do great things, and if 82 percent of Americans agree on something it must be important. Water is a public health issue, it is an economic issue. No community can thrive without water, and every American deserves a safe, reliable, accessible water supply. Let’s demand better, and make sure no American ever has to imagine a day without water again.

As the third annual “Imagine A Day Without Water” approaches on October 12th, we invite you view this video from the Value Water Campaign and imagine how your life would be impacted if we did not have ready access to safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water in this country.

When it comes to stormwater pollution, sharing is NOT caring!

Our everyday activities can really contribute to stormwater pollution if we aren’t careful. Trash, litter, pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, oil, you name it – it can end up in the storm drain and on its way to the nearest stream before you know it! Of course, that pollution can have a major impact on the fish and other animals that live in those streams, ponds, and rivers where the pollution ends up. What would happen if the fish could tell us they didn’t appreciate us sharing our dirty stormwater with them?

Check out the video below to see what happened when Jonny Fishpatrick was fed up with the stormwater pollution being dumped in his home, and imagine how this could be happening in your neighborhood!

Did you know that good old fashioned dirt is actually a MAJOR stormwater pollutant?!

What happens to dirt in stormwater?

When soil, dirt, sand, clay, or other tiny bits of earth end up in stormwater, we then call it “sediment” because those pieces can eventually settle out to the bottom of a body of water. However, moving water such as stormwater runoff through our neighborhoods and cities keeps the sediment from settling and can cause serious problems for water quality.

What does sediment do in the environment?

Sediment pollution creates many issues in the environment; here are just a few!

  • Clogs fish gills and suffocates small insects and other animals;
  • Creates murky, cloudy water that blocks sunlight from reaching plants;
  • Transports hundreds of other chemicals and pollutants to our drinking water that are hitching a ride on the sediment;
  • Encourages growth of toxic algae that can make people and animals sick;
  • Completely changes the course of a river or stream by depositing new banks!

What can we do to reduce stormwater pollution from sediment?

Sediment can come from many sources, such as construction sites or digging, erosion when vegetation has been removed, and even just dust and grime from your driveway, car, and sidewalk. You can help keep this dirt from getting in our streams and rivers by sweeping up instead of hosing down!

If you see muddy brown water being deliberately sent into the storm drain like in the photo below, or if you see lots of sediment coming from a construction site, call your local water department (contact info here) and let them know right away.

Run off

Mow High, and Let the Clippings Lie…

It’s heating up out there, and the grass is certainly responding! Many of us know we’ll need to mow frequently over the next few months, but we may not know that yard waste, such as those lawn clippings, is actually a stormwater pollutant that can have a big impact on water quality. Check out the CWEP video below starring the Sodfather, and learn about what you can do to help keep stormwater runoff clean as we do our summer landscaping!

The Basement Guide to Water Pollution

Thanks to Tyler with the Green Teens Club for sending over this great resource on water pollution! This infographic from Basement Guides offers a lot of interesting information on sources of contaminants in your home, as well as additional data on pollution around the world. Click on the image below to take a look at their site!

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Also check out the Green Teens Club website below to find more information about environmental issues, as well as see the cool work the Club is doing in their area. Maybe you’ll want to start your own club!

http://www.greenteensclub.org/