Public education key to healthy stormwater
Stormwater, which is defined as any water from rain or melted snow running untreated into storm basins, has a significant environmental impact most people do not fully understand. Untreated stormwater has the potential to pollute local water bodies and cause other harmful effects to ecological health and the environment. In order to increase social awareness of this issue, the town of Wakefield, Mass., has implemented an educational program that includes goals based on stormwater issues of significance within the municipal separate storm sewer system area. The ultimate objective of a public education program is to increase knowledge and change the behavior of the public so pollutants in stormwater are reduced.
Stormwater can become polluted by various chemicals, including household cleaning products, car fluids, detergents, road chemicals, fertilizer and pesticides, yard waste, pet waste, everyday litter, soapy car wash water and other items. Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged untreated into the water bodies used for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water — impacting native plants, fish, animals, and people. Excess sediment can also cloud the water and make it difficult or impossible for aquatic plants to grow, potentially destroying aquatic habitats. Bacteria and other pathogens can wash into swimming areas and create health hazards, often making beach closures necessary. Litter and debris like plastic bags, six-pack rings, bottles and cigarette butts are often washed into water bodies and can choke, suffocate or disable aquatic life like ducks, fish, turtles and birds.
To help uphold the integrity of Wakefield’s water bodies, the town’s department of public works has encouraged residents to modify their lawn care, such as by limiting fertilizer use. When fertilizer is needed, the department has also suggested residents choose brands with low nitrogen and phosphorus.
The exterior of the home is not the only proponent of Wakefield’s educational programming. Most people don’t think twice about tossing out old household cleaners, nail polish, glue and other items, but hazardous chemicals like these need to be disposed of properly so as to not pollute the water supply. The department of public works encourages residents to instead call it or visit one of the town’s hazardous waste drop-off days to safely dispose of old household chemicals.
In 2021, Wakefield and neighboring Reading organized two collections for hazardous waste. Reading’s occurred June 26 at its department of public works garage. Wakefield’s drop-off will follow Nov. 6 at Wakefield High School.
During these events, the public could bring antifreeze, arts and crafts supplies, car batteries, engine and radiator flushes, floor cleaners, furniture polish, gasoline, glue, mothballs, nail polish and remover, photo chemicals, radiator cleaners, tires (with or without rims), transmission fluid and window cleaners. Outside of these local collections, residents are asked to check out the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s website for collection sites.
Dog waste is another thing people might not think about harming local water supplies. When left on the ground, the waste is picked up by stormwater during rainstorms, carried into catch basins and runs untreated into Lake Quannapowitt, Crystal Lake, the Mill and Saugus Rivers and other brooks and streams. The waste carries bacteria, viruses and parasites that pollute water and can make people sick. To reduce the amount of pet waste in the water, Wakefield launched the “Scoop the Poop Pledge,” which residents can sign when renewing dog licenses each year. It’s a simple pledge to pick up after one’s furry friend. Those who sign it also receive a free waste bag dispenser. The public works department also has the pledge forms available online at wakefield.ma.us/scoop.
Another way the public can help protect Wakefield’s water is to use rain barrels. Collected rainwater can be recycled into use for watering lawns and gardens; in fact, the town of Wakefield has a community rain barrel program and educates residents about the benefits of rain barrels. At least $200 of precious rainwater can splash off a 1,000-square-foot roof in one season — rainwater that could easily be repurposed. A rain barrel is economical and can pay for itself in one season. Rainwater has no chemicals, chlorine or fluoride, which is great for plants and lawns, and using rainwater can help stressed trees and gardens during dry spells. Rain barrels also help towns manage water supplies and stormwater runoff.
Keeping local water bodies clean and free from pollution is an integral step to maintaining a healthy water supply. By being responsible and reducing the amount of toxins released into Wakefield’s stormwater, local residents, pets and the native ecosystem will be able to thrive — making the overall environment healthier for all.
For more information about stormwater in Wakefield, visit wakefield.ma.us.
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