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Stormwater and how it affects you
Image credit: Heal Our Waterways
Where Does Stormwater Go?
When it rains, or water is used outdoors, a portion of the water is absorbed into the ground through percolation. The remaining water, however, ends up flowing into the Town of Bel Air storm drain system which ultimately drains into the Chesapeake Bay.
How Does It Affect Our Waterways?
As development increases the amount of impervious area within the Town also increases. Impervious area is defined as: Mainly artificial structures such as pavements (roads, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots, as well as industrial areas such as airports, ports and logistics and distribution centers) that are covered by impenetrable materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick, stone, and rooftops.
An increase in impervious surface means a decrease in surface area which promotes stormwater infiltration. Ultimately, a decrease in permeable cover leads to a higher volume of water entering out stormdrain system. As stormwater enters the stormdrain system pollutants are picked up from surfaces such as driveways, streets, and even over fertilized lawns. These pollutants, which will be covered in subsequent sections, negatively effect ecosystems that rely on the watershed to survive.
One notable example of a watershed pollution occurred along the coastline of Florida in 2017. An algal bloom known as the "red tide" swept through the coastline of Florida and decimated the local ecosystems. The red tide lasted about 16 months and severely impacted ecosystems as well as Florida's seafood industry which contributes an estimated 24 billion dollars to the U.S. economy annually. During this outbreak it was estimated that hundreds of sea turtles, dolphins, and manatee fell victim. Additionally red tide was directly linked to large scale fish kills and overall degradation of the coastline habitat.
Image credit: helen.2006 on Flickr.com
Have you ever noticed your favorite pond around the middle of June starting to explode with algae? No, that's not normal! This is a process known as Eutrophication. Eutrophication is defined as excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, causing a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen.
According to the EPA, excessive nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen can cause harmful algal blooms. In turn, these blooms can produce dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people and animals. Additionally, blooms can create dead zones in the water where little to no dissolved oxygen is present to promote life and adversely effect economies that depend on clean water.
Eutrophication and Stormwater Materials
Other Common Polluters
Grass Clippings- Lawn's that have been treated with fertilizer pose a threat to local waterways when yard waste is not properly disposed. Grass clippings coated in fertilizer that wash into the stormdrain system increase the amount of nitrogen and phosporus in the water. As the nutrients increase, the liklihood of eutrophication occuring also increases. When practical, it is recommended that grass clippings be spread over the lawn in an even fashion. When this approach is not feasible, it is recommended that residents place their yard waste in paper yard waste bags and placed at the curb for disposal.
Pool Water- Improperly handled pool water (or any water containing chlorine) poses a threat to many aquatic fish and invertebrates. Chlorine, in high enough concentrations, causes burns to the gills of fish, affects the migration patterns of other fish, damages reproductive organs, and can ultimately lead to mortality for many aquatic species. It is required through Town Code that pool water be give a 10 foot buffer across a surface that promotes infiltration (usually grass) to allow the chlorine to evaporate if the pool is being drained into the storm drain system. Alternatively, residents are permitted to drain their pools directly into their sewer cleanout (usually located in your front yard) without any special preparation.
Pet Waste- Pet waste is a major contributor to stormwater pollution and can lead to a substantial decrease in water quality. Pet waste contains bacteria, parasites, viruses, and our favorite nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus. An estimated 1.3 million dogs live, play, and poop in the state of Maryland. When left unmanaged, pet waste can pose potential human health risks as well as risks for our watershed. Therefore, it is critical to the health of our waterways to scoop the poop every stinkin' time!
Supplamental Information On Other Common Polluters
Dog image credit: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Oil stain image credit: North Londonderry Township Public Works
Grass clippings image credit: Fauquier County Department of Community Development