Stormwater management plays key role

Stormwater management plays key role

Editor’s note: This is the first of a six-part series on stormwater management and why it is important. The series was created with the help of the Superior Watershed Partnership of Marquette.

MARQUETTE — Stormwater is the rain and melting snow that runs off our lawns, our roofs, our roads, our parking lots – our watersheds. In Marquette, virtually all of this stormwater ends up in Lake Superior, either through natural drainage or through the stormwater drains you see along the roadside.

Stormwater runoff is the major cause of water quality issues in urban and suburban areas, and is a topic of some concern around Marquette and other Upper Peninsula cities. While your municipality is responsible for stormwater infrastructure, there is still a lot individuals and households can do to make sure their impact on the stormwater system is as light as it can be.

Over the coming months the Superior Watershed Partnership, along with the city of Marquette, will be providing stormwater education resources for residents and business owners, including simple things you can do in your home or business to keep stormwater runoff as clean as possible. Everyone in the community has a role in keeping stormwater clean and protecting Lake Superior, and part of that is recognizing stormwater as part of our natural resource system, not a waste product.

Around the house

Reducing stormwater pollution in the home means thinking about the ways rain or snowmelt interact with your house, yard and driveway. Reducing the impervious, or hard, nonporous surfaces on your property is one way to control stormwater runoff. This could mean forgoing the new concrete patio in favor of a outdoor area that uses pavers instead, or moderating the drainage of stormwater from your driveway by adding gravel on either side. In general, the more ways stormwater has to drain into natural ground, the cleaner it is when it makes it to the lake.

Water efficiency improvements also can help how much wastewater leaves your house and heads into the storm drains.

Cars

There are a few common things people do with their cars at home that can have negative effects on stormwater runoff. One is washing their car in the driveway or street. Because those are hard surfaces that drain to stormwater systems, the soap and dirt ends up in the lake. If you take your car to a commercial car wash instead, they usually are required to catch and either recycle or treat their wastewater.

Another good choice is to wash your car on your lawn or on a graveled area. That allows the dirty water to seep into the ground instead, which acts as a natural filtering system. Using biodegradable or non-toxic, phosphate-free soap also minimizes the chemicals that end up in the ecosystem. It’s a good idea to use the minimum amount of soap and water needed, too. A spray nozzle can help reduce water flow, and waterless car-wash products can help with spot cleaning. When you’re done, empty dirty wash water into a household drain to send it to the wastewater treatment plant, or dump it on grass or another natural surface.

Stormwater begins as rain or melting snow, then travels from yards, streets and parking lots into storm drains. In Marquette, storm drains empty into Lake Superior, such as this storm drain outflow near McCarty’s Cove. (Photo courtesy of the Superior Watershed Partnership)

Keeping your car in good shape and free of leaks is another way to help ensure you’re not contributing to stormwater runoff. If your car does have some kind of fluid leak, fix it as soon as you can and clean up any spills in your driveway or on the street that it’s caused. If you do your own oil changes at home, be conscious of where the used oil goes. Use an oil drain pan to collect old oil. When you’re done, take it to a cooperative auto repair shop to be safely disposed of, and of course, clean up any spills promptly.

Pet waste

There’s a reason E. coli bacteria are commonly found in Lake Superior storm drains — and it’s usually pet waste. You might think leaving your pet’s feces behind in your yard or on a walk doesn’t have much impact, and if it was just you, it might not. But collectively, all those not- picked-up waste piles do have an impact on bacteria counts in local waterways. Because towns like Marquette have a higher concentration of pet animals than rural areas, the problem can compound itself pretty quickly, leading to contaminated water and beach closures.

What to do? It’s pretty simple. Bag and pick up pet waste, even if it’s just in your own yard. This keeps it out of the storm drains and in the trash. You can also avoid walking your pet near streams or on beaches; grassy areas, parks or undeveloped areas are better choices.

Household practices

Sometimes people see storm drains as handy outdoor dumping spots for chemicals or other waste. If you have leftover household paint, oils and chemicals, don’t dump it down the drain, either in your house or on the street. The best thing to do is find out when your town or area has household hazardous waste pickup or turn-in, and dispose of them then. In Marquette, the Marquette County Landfill holds monthly HHW events, so you don’t even have to wait very long.

There are a few other household practices that can help minimize chemicals in stormwater runoff. For instance, when you use ice-melt or salt on your driveway or walkway, avoid over-applying it. There are also more environmentally-friendly alternatives, like sand or clean cat litter. Likewise, don’t put trash, yard waste or anything else down storm drains. It doesn’t end up anywhere except in the Great Lakes, so if it’s not something you’d be comfortable with dumping in the lake, don’t let it run down a storm drain.

In the next installment, we’ll talk about how better practices around the yard and garden have a big impact on stormwater pollution.