Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

grease in jar

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.

W_WW_treatment_INFOGRAPHIC

In Conclusion…

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.

What lessons could other communities learn from Charlotte?

Two major hurricanes hit North Carolina in the last month, and while the damage was severe to some parts of the state, damage from flooding in the Charlotte area was less than it would have been a decade ago. This is due to many years of hard work and preparation in the making.

It all started in 1995 after Tropical Storm Jerry. Charlotte homes flooded and the storm led to $5 million in property damage. However, as time passed, residents and local government officials forgot how bad the flooding had been.

It wasn’t until Hurricane Danny in 1997 that major flooding hit Charlotte again. The major difference from the ‘95 flood to the ‘97 flood was there was a number of homes that flooded, yet, they were outside of Charlotte’s mapped floodplain. This raised doubts about the accuracy of Charlotte’s floodplain maps. In addition to all of this, came pressure from people who lived in neighborhoods that flooded for the second time in three years. It was clear that local support for a new, proactive approach to flooding had to be a priority.

The first step Charlotte took was buying out homes that were in floodplains- areas that are prone to flooding because they’re right by creeks or rivers that are prone to flooding. With federal grants from FEMA, as well as funding from the county, Charlotte initiated a home buyout program. Since 1999, the program has bought out more than 400 homes in floodplains and demolished them- ultimately restoring creek and river banks over time. All in all, the buyout program cost more than $71 million. However, the buyouts have saved $27 million in property damages, according to the county. During Hurricane Florence alone, the program saved $1.9 million.

It is important to note that buying out houses and tearing them down isn’t sustainable in the long-term by itself. Stormwater flood sensors were also placed at rivers across the city. This sensor sends a beam down to the water, which then determines the distance between the sensor and the water. All of those sensors make up FINS, or the Flood Information & Notification System which track flooding in real time. Once the water elevates to where it’s going to breach over the road, the fire department then gets notified before any people or roads bear the cost. While the real time emergency notification system is useful for first responders, it didn’t solve a bigger issue Charlotte was facing- outdated maps.

Most states use the flood maps FEMA provides. However, at the time in the 1990’s, a lot of these maps hadn’t been updated for North Carolina since the 1970s. FEMA didn’t have enough money to update all the flood maps across the country constantly. So, local governments worked together to set aside a couple million dollars to map flooding. This included a new process called “future conditions floodplain mapping.” This process takes land development and use into account, and helps determine how cities can best orient themselves to avoid damage from flooding. To accurately map flooding, the state partnered with FEMA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The program in Charlotte was getting off the ground when another hurricane hit the state in 1999, Hurricane Floyd. At this time, politicians got the North Carolina General Assembly on board with tracking rivers in real time and making future conditions floodplain maps for the state. Unfortunately, in most states, it’s hard to get legislators to budget for expensive services such as this, especially when many still rely on old maps. Other states such as Alabama and Florida partnered with North Carolina to develop similar mapping programs. States even talked to experts on flood mapping in North Carolina to help their own programs.

The Charlotte case study is a great example of efforts that could be made by other communities in flood mapping and efforts to decrease damage from flooding. The success of all the planning and preparation is credited to a willingness for the city, county and state to adapt. Ultimately, the answer that worked was a “no” to flood prevention, and “yes” to damage prevention.

 

 

 

No Straw November Challenge!

Millions of plastic straws are being used daily all around the world. Many end up in our waterways where they harm wildlife, impact water quality, and add to pollution. The goal of “No Straw November” is to bring awareness to the many plastic straws that are being used once and then thrown away in a single month. This national campaign challenges people to refuse plastic straws the whole month of November while raising awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution. One plastic straw does not seem like much, but they add up one by one and have damaging effects on the environment. Because plastic does not biodegrade, nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists. Over time, plastics break into increasingly smaller pieces called microplastics, which ultimately find their way up the food chain and into our seafood and drinking water. Plastic pollution in our waterways is also often mistaken for food by animals like sea turtles, fish, and seals, impacting millions of marine organisms and, human health.strawGlobewMsg1200x475-1024x405Straws are just one of several plastic items that the public thinks are recyclable, yet often are not due to ineffective processes and high costs. Plastic straws contaminate recycling because they are too small to capture and make into new products. Ultimately, straws reduce the value of other recyclables and end up in landfills.

What Can You Do To Get Involved?

Simply request “no straw” at bars & restaurants and share your commitment with others. Encourage your favorite restaurant or bar to only provide straws on request from the customer and to use reusable or naturally compostable options to the plastic straw. Print these forms and hand them out to staff, management, commercial businesses, schools, etc. that use plastic straws.

We also invite all bars and restaurants, to be part of the movement to eliminate plastic pollution from the source. By simply stating on menus “Straws available upon request”, bars and restaurants can be part of the solution.

Here’s How:

  • Provide a straw only when requested by a customer
  • Provide either reusable or naturally compostable straws
  • Or get rid of straws completely

To learn more about this national effort, visit https://thelastplasticstraw.org/. Break the plastic straw habit during November…and beyond!

 

Imagine a Day Without Water

Sometimes, it is easy to take clean water from homes and businesses for granted. However, could you imagine a day without water? Without safe, reliable water and wastewater services?

What does a day without water actually mean? A day without water means no water comes out of your tap to brush your teeth. There is no water to do laundry or make coffee. When you flush the toilet, nothing happens. Firefighters have no water to put out fires, hospitals would close, and farmers couldn’t water their crops. A single nationwide day without water would put $43.5 billion of economic activity at risk and nearly 2 million jobs in jeopardy. A day without water would be nothing short of a national crisis.

The US Water Alliance is holding its fourth annual Imagine A Day Without Water day to raise awareness and educate America about the value of water. This day is a national education campaign with the goal to engage stakeholders, organization, businesses, public officials, and the general public about how water is essential, invaluable, and needs investment. It will take place October 10, 2018, and includes events, resolutions, social media engagement and more across the country. Last year, over 750 organizations came together to take part in this very important day. This year, we encourage everyone who cares about water to join this national day of action to secure a sustainable future. Participating groups can host events, promote social media campaigns, pass a resolution with your mayor or city council, or do whatever you think best educates and engages the public and stakeholders about how water is essential, invaluable, and worthy of investment. This important day also provides teachers and educators the opportunity to reinforce the importance of water with their students through various activities, conversations, field trips, and events.

This crisis may seem unthinkable to most of us, however, some communities in America know how impossible it is to go a day without water. From man-made tragedies in Flint, Michigan, to water scarcity issues in Central California, to water pollution contamination from hurricane Florence right here in North Carolina. There are millions of Americans living in communities that do not have the infrastructure to provide safe water service, relying on bottled water and septic systems every day. The problems that face our drinking water and wastewater systems are due to many variables. The infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, having gone underfunded for decades. Drought, flooding, and climate change stress water and wastewater systems. Although these regional challenges will require locally-driven solutions, reinvestment in our water must be a national priority.

While we aren’t celebrating a day without water, we are definitely observing this day as an appreciation for the natural water resources available to us in our country! Water scarcity is a public health issue as well as an economic issue. A day without water is undoubtedly a crisis. 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 has to “Imagine a Day Without Water” again. As a partner in the Imagine a Day Without Water movement, please check out this video to learn more about how Americans can come together to save our most precious resource.

 

 

Hurricane Florence and the Hazards of Stormwater Runoff

The Atlantic Hurricane season is now upon us for 2018. The season began on June 1st and runs through to the end of November. Although it is possible for storms to form outside of this time frame, we can expect the bulk of the weather to fall in this period. As Hurricane Florence nears the Carolina coast, many local stores are experiencing empty gasoline pumps and barren store shelves. Hurricane Florence will generate 140 mph (225 kph) winds and drenching rain that could last for days. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency and prompted those who live on the coast to evacuate inland. While many think a hurricane only harms coastal communities, flash flooding, high winds, tornadoes, landslides, and mud slides can cause incredible damage to inland communities both during and long after a major storm event like Florence.

It is important to understand that even after a hurricane passes through your neighborhood, you could still be at risk. The precipitation that does not soak into the ground where it falls is referred to as “stormwater runoff“, which can continue to accumulate and cause flooding issues for several days after the rain stops. This runoff is incredibly good at picking up whatever it comes into contact with as it travels downward to the lowest elevation, so it can sometimes also contain hazardous substances such as debris, chemicals, oils and grease, sediment, bacteria, and other pollutants.

Contamination of local waterways is a major threat that can arise from heavy rainfall. Runoff may pollute rivers, lakes, aquifers, and other water bodies nearby. This can add chemicals and hazardous substances to water sources that people drink and swim in. Runoff may be harmful for humans or livestock which may attempt to feed off of plants or water sources that have been affected by runoff. When water runs off roofs, yards, streets, and parking lots into storm sewers or directly into waterways, it carries with it sediments that clog streams and reduce oxygen in the water, as well as chemicals that can be fatal to aquatic ecosystems and lead to undrinkable water supplies for humans.

What To Do During Hurricane Florence

To avoid contributing to runoff pollution during Hurricane Florence, residents can take certain precautions such as cleaning up any debris or waste in yards and streets, and refraining from fertilizing and watering yards, or using toxic products directly before the hurricane. Other steps you can take include reducing the amount of impervious surfaces on your property, lining impervious surfaces with gravel trenches, using the water that drains off your roof, replacing lawn areas with native plants, adding organic matter to your soil, planting trees, creating a rain garden, installing berms and vegetated swales, as well as reducing the slope of your yard. It is also important to ensure pet waste is disposed of properly, as pet waste left on the ground can be washed into surface waters, causing significant bacterial contamination and boosting the nutrients to unsafe levels. It is also important to secure septic systems to ensure that waste does not seep into runoff.

Rain is never going away, and neither is human infrastructure. However, growing technologies like permeable pavement, rain garden construction in urban centers, and public education can go a long way in protecting the health of the lakes, rivers, and oceans that so many people and animals call home. By working together to preserve plant life that filters storm water and taking steps in our everyday lives to slow runoff and instead use it for something like a rain garden, we can begin to tackle the problem of stormwater pollution together.

City of Raleigh Hosting Hurricane Season Flooding Series August 28 and 29

The City of Raleigh sees the most flooding impacts from hurricanes in September and October. To help you prepare, the City is holding public meetings that cover:

  • Why flooding happens;
  • What to expect in different areas of the city;
  • What the City does to reduce impacts from flooding; and,
  • Available community resources.

WRAL meteorologist Greg Fishel will be there to lend his expertise as well!

Click on the links below to find out more information about the series – no reservations are required.

Flooding Series: What you Need to Know During Hurricane Season
August 28 at 6 p.m.
Walnut Creek Wetland Center, 950 Peterson St.

Flooding Series: What you Need to Know During Hurricane Season
August 29 at 6 p.m.
Lake Lynn Community Center, 7921 Ray Road

Spotlight on Cary – 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 the Town of Cary as they strive to continue increasing public engagement and awareness of stormwater in their everyday lives!

In the Town of Cary’s continuing engagement with downtown stormwater stakeholders, staff gave a guided tour to about 10 citizens, including developers and downtown homeowners, to see real-life examples of stormwater management in practice and public-private opportunities. NC State University professor Dr. Bill Hunt was in attendance and provided valuable insights. In addition to the walking tour, attendees were able to see the new truck that is cleaning out stormwater drains in a Town of Cary pilot area as part of their proactive approach to maintenance.

DT Stormwater Tour 1

The tour infused plenty of Town technology by utilizing a stormwater storymap via iPad devices in order to supplement the talking points at each spot along the tour. The tour group was encouraged to share the walking tour and storymap with their social circles and continue using the features through the publicly accessible website. Since the tour, the Town of Cary has seen traffic to the storymap website double. Be sure to check out this cool technology and see photos of stormwater education in action!

Spotlight on Hillsborough – 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 Hillsborough as they work to grow their stormwater education and outreach programs and maximize their impact with the community!

Stormwater Almanac

The Hillsborough Stormwater and Environmental Services division publishes a Stormwater Almanac quarterly, featuring educational articles and updates on Town stormwater projects. The most recent issue highlighted the Town’s stormwater retrofit that directed additional stormwater runoff to a bioretention cell in Cates Creek park.

CatesCreekParkRetrofit_NewInlet

Volunteers Help Maintain Wetland

Triangle Fly Fishers, a local fly fishing and conservation group recently completed maintenance at the Town of Hillsborough’s stormwater wetland located at Gold Park. Volunteers removed cattails, unwanted woody vegetation, as well as trash and debris. As part of the effort, Stormwater and Environmental Services Manager, Terry Hackett explained how the wetland functions to remove stormwater pollution which benefits the nearby Eno River.

StormwaterWetlandVolunteerMaintenance

Citizens Academy

Stormwater and Environmental Services staff presented to the Town of Hillsborough’s 4th Citizens Academy. The Citizens Academy is a 7-week long program aimed at helping citizens increase their knowledge of town government, as well as their interest and ability in influencing and participating in town decisions.  Staff provided an overview of the town’s stormwater program, including the town’s stormwater management utility and associated fee. Participants then had the opportunity to ask questions to gain more insight about the town’s efforts to reduce stormwater runoff pollution.

Earth Evening 2018

Every year on the Friday night of Earth Week, the division speaks with the public and leads hands-on activities for all ages during the annual Earth Evening event at the Market Pavilion in River Park, downtown Hillsborough. This event is organized by Orange County Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation. The division also leads similar activities at local schools throughout the year.

TES_Science_Night_2018

SCM Recognition Program

The division is kicking off a recognition program for owners of Stormwater Control Measures (SCMs) this month. The town requires SCM owners to maintain their SCMs and submit annual inspection reports. The program will recognize those property owners who have exceptional compliance records and consistently maintain SCMs, following all applicable maintenance requirements. While recognizing deserving property owners, we also hope to achieve greater public awareness of our SCM inspection program.

For more information about the great work Hillsborough is doing, feel free to reach out to the Town’s Stormwater Coordinator Heather Fisher at 919-296-9622!

City of Raleigh 2018 Capture it! Stormwater Arts Contest Winners Announced

Congratulations to the City of Raleigh’s 2018 Capture it! Stormwater Arts Contest winners! Winners for the three categories below were announced at the 11th Annual Environmental Awards in March:

Video Winner – “Stormwater Video” by Ryann Bauguess, Rachel Young, and Kira Badrova

 

Check out the winning video below!

Storm Drain Stencil Design Winner  “All Drains to the Neuse” by Genna Stott

Storm Drain Stencil Winner 2018

Rain Barrel Artwork Design Winner – “Which Side are you on?” by Izabel de Angelo, Davis Lingle, Jonathan Clymer, and Taylor Gantt.

Rain Barrel Winner 2018

Spotlight on Durham: 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 Durham and their longstanding Creek Week efforts, as well as their pledge to keep more plastic waste out of our waters!

There is a lot going on in March for both the City and County of Durham, as well as their many environmental partners in the community! Durham’s Creek Week has been an established event for the last decade, and each year it grows and evolves even more. In conjunction with this year’s Creek Week, there are lots of other great events, initiatives, and opportunities to get involved with cleaning up your environment and keeping our water safe. For a list of all Creek Week events, check out this website: Durham Creek Week Events Page.  Whether you’re interested in a litter cleanup event, planting a tree, or even a canoe paddle, you’ll definitely find something fun to do!

Skip the Straw!

More than 500,000,000 straws are used once and tossed every day in this country! Mayor Steve Schewel has proclaimed March “No Straws Month” in Durham: “Single use plastics that find their way onto our streets get washed through storm drains into local creeks and all the way to the ocean,” says Mayor Schewel. “Plastic litter is a roadside eyesore, and it also can be fatal to river and ocean animals.” To kick off the month, a screening of the environmental awareness documentary “Straws” by Linda Booker was provided at the Durham Arts Council on February 22nd – it was a packed house with help from Bull City Burger and Brewery, Pompieri Pizza, Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, Keep Durham Beautiful, The City of Durham Stormwater & GIS Services, Don’t Waste DurhamCompostNow, and other local environmentally conscious businesses!

Check out the trailer for “Straws” and learn more about this plastic pollution!

Several restaurants, bars, business, and other entities have taken the pledge to reduce or eliminate straw use in their establishments – some bars have even permanently moved to using only metal or other green straws! If you want to challenge yourself to have an impact on this type of plastic waste (and we promise, it’s won’t be too hard!), take the pledge at the link below:

Take the Pledge to SKIP THE STRAW here!

Don’t Litter, Man!

Don’t Litter, Man Full Video

Local Durhamite Pierce Freelon leads a litter art and beats workshop for youth at The Scrap Exchange to show that litter goes all the way to the ocean. Check out this fun video and show it to your kids, classroom, or even your coworkers!