Where the Water Flows by Leann Sato

Ahh, the smell of Spring after an April rain shower.  Clean and fresh.    The rain washes away the dry and dirty leaving the beauty of a refreshed landscape. 

 

And then I wonder. Where did the rain go that carried away the dry and dirty? And what was so dirty that needed to be cleaned?

 

The rain runs down the gutter to the storm drain, the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) to be exact.   The storm sewer takes rain, snowmelt, and anything that floats down the gutter to the North Platte River. This is often confused with the Sanitary Sewer which takes our home’s wastewater from the shower, laundry, dishwasher, and toilets to the wastewater treatment plant.

The two sewer systems are separate and function differently. The Sanitary Sewer takes water to be cleaned and treated at the wastewater treatment plant.  A constant flow and steady volume of wastewater runs through the plant.  First, trash and non-organic materials are screened out and taken to the landfill. In the next step, the raw sewage flows to an aeration basin where organisms are introduced to help decompose the organic material.  Then the wastewater flows into a clarifier, where those organisms are settled out of the water, producing a sludge which can be composted and reused.  The water is then disinfected using ultraviolet radiation and returned in clean condition to the North Platte River.

The storm drainage system in Scottsbluff and Gering runs straight to the North Platte River; it is not cleaned or treated.  Unlike wastewater, stormwater runoff is unpredictable and varies in volume, making it infeasible to treat with the same process as waste water.  When rain, snowmelt, or the occasional sprinkler causes water to run down the gutter, it can pick up pollutants such as bacteria from pet waste, leaking oil and other fluids from our vehicles, heavy metals from brake pads, and phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers. The stormwater and its pollutants deposits directly into our waterways.  This type of pollution is called non-point source (NPS) pollution, since there’s no specific source, and it is the largest cause of impaired waterways in the United States.

As an example of this, the nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer are good for plants, in proper amounts. But consider what happens when the “little bit” that runs off the lawn to join the other “little bits” already in the storm sewer, North Platte River, Missouri River, and Mississippi River.  The excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other fertilizer nutrients in the water lead to large blooms of algae. When the algae die and decompose, this dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen in the water creating hypoxic zones, more commonly called “dead zones,” in which organisms cannot survive.[1] The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, where “little bits” of fertilizer run-off from across the country end up, was estimated to be 5,840 square miles in 2013[2], roughly the land size of Nebraska’s largest county, Cherry County. [3]

Stormwater pollution is difficult to treat, but there are many easy to help prevent it.  The main goal is to let only rain go down the drain. Pick up pet waste, throw litter in the trash can, keep the car in good condition by checking for leaks and regular maintenance, fertilize according to the directions and sweep any extra back onto the yard. The list of suggestions is long the list of benefits even longer.

It all begins by being aware of stormwater – where it goes, what it picks up, and the simple ways to help keep it clean.   So savor the scent of Spring after an April shower and the knowledge of how to help keep our waterways just as clean and fresh.

 

 

Sidebar: 

Only Rain Down the Drain:  Simple Ways to Help Prevent Stormwater Pollution

Trash:

Put litter in the garbage

Pick up pet waste and put it in the trash or flush it.

Recycle

 

Vehicles:

Wash your car on the lawn or in a commercial car wash

Monitor, fix Leaks, and clean spills properly

Maintain vehicle regularly

Recycle used motor oil

 

Home:

Properly dispose of hazardous household chemicals

Use non-toxic household products

Sweep the driveway or sidewalk instead of hosing it down

Redirect downspouts to run onto the yard instead of a sidewalk or driveway

Harvest rain water

 

Yards:

Fertilizer and pesticides

Apply according to directions

Store indoors

Sweep any extra back onto the lawn

Use natural fertilizers and pesticides

Keep your grass clippings on the lawn

Compost yard waste

Sweep up leaves and dispose in yard waste containers

Don’t overwater

Water the lawn, not the sidewalk

Vegetate Bare Spots

Use de-icers sparingly

 

Landscape:

Plant “the right plant in the right place”

Plant a rain garden

Use native or well-adapted plants



[1] http://www.epa.gov/msbasin/ hypoxia101.htm

[2] http://www.gulfhypoxia.net/Research/Shelfwide%20Cruises/2013/PressRelease2013.pdf

[3] http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/nebraska/land-area#table

More Than Just Another Pretty Landscape by Dick Meyer

A Prairie Garden Journal                              

When I was learning how to design landscapes half a lifetime ago, the most important aspects of the design process were function and aesthetics.   “Function” was the first phase of the design process—identifying the landscape rooms and connecting paths which best served the activities and lifestyle of the family or persons living in the home or on the property, and then arranging those rooms and paths on the site in much the same way that one would plan the floorplan of a new home.   “Aesthetics” was the second phase of the landscape design process—creating the walls, floors, and ceilings of the landscape rooms and making those walls, floors, and ceilings look pretty—especially the walls.   This is where having a long list of colorful trees, shrubs, flowers, and ornamental grasses came in handy.

But over the past two decades, another important aspect of landscape design has slowly been emerging and it almost certainly will become as important as function and aesthetics in the design process.   This new and important aspect of the landscape design process doesn’t even have an agreed upon name yet–some are calling it ecological functionality or ecological sustainability, others call it ecological coherence or  restorative landscape design.    The lack of a clear name for this new aspect of landscape design reflects the underlying complexity of what it attempts to do—nothing less than to make your home landscape as ecologically functional as a natural landscape.  That may sound like an easy thing to do, but it turns out that God was a little smarter than most of us humans.

Landscape phenomena or trends such as xeriscaping, use of native plants, raingardens and bioswales, are, without a doubt, all a part of the growing awareness of both the importance of landscape to the health of human beings and the complexity of recreating man-made landscapes that are functionally as healthy as natural landscapes.

At this point it might be worthwhile to review just exactly what it is that the earth’s natural landscape does for us human beings (and all other living things).   Let’s see.  Well it creates the air that we breathe—that’s pretty important.   And it creates the pure, clean water that we drink.  I like water, how about you?  And it grows the food that we eat.  Anyone else get hungry?   And on top of that, many of the earth’s natural landscapes are just downright beautiful to look at.

With only a billion or two human beings on the planet, the capacity of the earth’s natural landscape to provide plenty of clean air, pure water, and healthy food was not a problem.  But with the earth’s human population predicted to reach 9 billion within a few decades, most of those who study the subject say that we humans are going to have to make dramatic changes to how we live in order to allow the earth to continue to create enough clean air, pure water, and healthy food for that many people (and all of the other living things, too.)

Just to be clear, I am not one of those wild-eyed environmentalists running around with my hair on fire and a “THE END IS NEAR” sign.   OK, I may be a wild eyed environmentalist, but my hair’s not on fire and I don’t think that the end is near.    There are two reasons why my hair’s not on fire and I’m not carrying a sign.   First, I have great optimism about the capacity of we humans to learn and eventually do the right things, and, second, I have an even greater optimism about the capacity of Nature to heal itself and endure.

Which brings me back to what’s going on in western Nebraska.   The downtown Scottsbluff parking lot raingardens/bioswales, the bioswale at the Scottsbluff Public Library, the proposed landscape development for the downtown business district in Scottsbluff are all part of larger process to make the landscapes in which we humans live to be more than just pretty landscapes.   These are a part of the early attempts of we humans to create landscapes which are not only pretty, but which also do a better job of producing clean air to breathe, pure water to drink, and healthy food to eat.

So make no mistake about it.  These are cutting edge landscape concepts being implemented in a small community in western Nebraska.   That said, no one who has worked on designing or building these projects would claim that they already know how to create man-made landscapes that function as well as natural landscapes—but we will learn more from these projects than we knew before, and in the not too distant future I think we will be able to create highly ecologically functional landscapes for homes, businesses and public spaces which also just happen to be pretty.

 

City of Scottsbluff Hires New Stormwater Specialist

The City of Scottsbluff recently named Leann Sato as Stormwater Program Specialist.  Leann replaces Annie Folck, who was promoted to City Planner.  Leann is anxious to continue Scottsbluff’s Stormwater public education and outreach programs with her background in mass communication, training and development, and teaching.   She looks forward to working with the community and agencies to employ good Stormwater practices.  If you have any stormwater related projects with which you would like assistance, please feel free to contact Leann at (308) 630-8011 or lsato@scottsbluff.org.

Construction Bulletin April 2014

Goals for Construction Site Runoff Management

Ahh, Spring— warmer weather, thawing ground, and afternoon rain showers.   While welcoming the change of season,  it’s also time to consider Best Management Practices (BMPs) for keeping the soil on site and preventing stormwater run off and sediment pollution.

The ultimate goal for construction site runoff management is to prevent the pollution of stormwater runoff.  Best Management Practices (BMPs) aim to slow the velocity, control the volume, and/or  filter  site run– off.  Stormwater permits require BMPs to address erosion and sediment run-off, soil exposure, ground disturbance, compaction,  buffers,  outlet protection, and stabilization.  Below are some BMPs to consider for construction sites.

Grass

Stabilization, or planting ground cover,  allows run off to infiltrate the ground providing nutrients to the plants and replenishing ground water. Stabilization is required by the Nebraska general construction permit as soon as practicable on sites and no more than 14 days after construction activities have ceased.

 

Slope Drain

When the slope is steep channeling the runoff through a slope drain can be an effective erosion control.  Drains may be made of pipe,  s shown, or a constructed channel lined with rock,  turf replacement mats,  and wattles to slow the flow of water.

 

Flexible Gutter

Flexible rain gutters can direct roof water away from exposed soil.  The gutters can channel water to impermeable areas (e.g. concrete driveways) where clean stormwater can run to the gutter or to vegetated areas where plants and soil can absorb the water

InspectionRegular inspection,  every 14 days and within 24 hours of a 1/2” rain event,  is the best way to insure construction site BMPs are working effectively.  Look for evidence, or  potential,  of pollutants entering the drainage system.  An inspection report must be identify any incidents of non-compliance with permit conditions and actions taken to correct the issue.  If no incidents of non-compliance were found, the report must contain a certification that the site is in compliance with the Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP). The  reports should be retained with the SWPPP for up to three years after the permit expires or is terminated.

 

 

Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution

The City of Scottsbluff, working with the Nebraska Forest Service and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, has recently completed a project that will help reduce stormwater runoff and pollution.  We started with a parking lot that had over 16,000 square feet of impervious surface and no landscaping.  We broke out over 4,000 square feet of concrete and replaced it will trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials.  Not only did we reduce the impervious surface area of the parking lot by about 1/4, we also designed the project so that runoff from the impervious areas that were left would run into the landscaped areas, where much of it can be filtered into the soil and utilized by the plants.  Keep reading for a step by step explanation of what went into this project. Continue reading Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution

Rain Garden Plant Selection for Western Nebraska

There are many different native or well-adapted plants that can be used in rain gardens in Nebraska.  Below are a few that we have used here in Scottsbluff that have done very well in our rain garden.

Bee balm (pictured above) is an excellent rain garden plant, but it can spread aggressively.  In our rain garden, it spread very quickly in May and June, but once it started getting hot in July, it stopped spreading. Continue reading Rain Garden Plant Selection for Western Nebraska

Construction BMPs: Temporary Stabilization

This straw mulch has been crimped into the ground for temporary stabilization.

Stabilization, or establishing ground cover to protect disturbed soils from erosion, is not only a good practice, it is required by law.  The Nebraska state Construction General Permit states that, with a few exceptions such as snow cover or frozen ground conditions, “stabilization measures  must be initiated as soon as practicable in portions of the site where construction activities have temporarily or permanently ceased, but in no case more than 14 days after the construction activity in that portion of the site has temporarily or permanently ceased.” Since it is unlikely that suitable vegetation can be established within 14 days, other methods of stabilization must be considered.  Covering exposed or disturbed areas protects the soil from raindrop impact, slows the flow of and infiltrates stormwater, and protects newly seeded areas.  It also helps retain soil moisture, which will help your vegetation become established more quickly.

One of the simplest methods of erosion control is mulching.  Straw or hay mulch should be applied at a rate of 2-3 tons per acre.  To provide good ground cover, at least 50% of the mulch should be ten inches in length or longer.  The mulch should be crimped using a weighted roller that anchors the mulch into the soil.  If the area is seeded before the mulch is applied, this can be a very simple and effective method of preventing erosion while vegetation is established.

Another method of erosion control is a rolled erosion control blanket.  These can be made from natural or synthetic materials and can be effective in protecting steeper slopes from erosion.  They are designed to be rolled onto the area and stapled into place.  Always follow installation specifications, as poor installation can cause these products to fail. 

This erosion contol blanket temporarily stabilizes the slope while vegetation is established.

If the blanket is not properly anchored and stapled, it can either be washed away or stormwater can wash out soil underneath the blanket, causing small gullies that are difficult to seed.  If the area is seeded and the erosion control blanket is installed correctly, grass will grow up through the blanket, and over time, the blanket will degrade.

For extremely steep slopes or areas with limited access, hydraulic mulching should be considered.  In this process, a slurry made up of mulch, seed, and a tackifying agent is sprayed onto the disturbed area.  There are also many other products and stabilization methods available.  Each site should be carefully evaluated to determine which product or combination of products is the most effective and economical way to achieve stabilization. 

 

 

 

 

Nebraska Construction Storm Water General Permit: Terminating Permit Coverage

If you have a stormwater permit (state or local) in your name, it is very important to close out that permit upon completion of a project.  As long as that permit is open, you are the responsible party for any stormwater discharges coming from your site.  A permit may be closed out under only two circumstances: either final stabilization must be achieved, or the permit must be transferred to another Operator or the Owner. 

Under the first circumstance, coverage under a NPDES construction permit may be terminated 180 calendar days after all soil disturbing construction activity has been completed, final stabilization has been achieved, and all temporary BMPs (silt fence, inlet protection, etc.) have been removed.  In order for a site to be considered stabilized, any areas that are not impervious (covered by buildings or pavement), must be vegetated with 70% perennial groundcover.  Annual vegetation, such as cover crops, do not count as final stabilization.  A simple test to see if you have 70% vegetation is to take a 100 foot long tape measure, lay it out over an area that is representative of the whole site, and count how many plants (in most cases blades of grass) coincide with the 1-foot marks.  If there are plants at 70 or more of these marks, then you have the required stabilization.  After final stabilization has been achieved for 180 calendar days, you may then file a Notice of Termination (NOT) which will terminate your permit coverage.  

The alternative method of terminating permit coverage is to transfer the permit to another Operator or the Owner.  In order to do this, you must file a Construction Storm Water Notice of Transfer (CSW-Transfer) that lists the current permit authorization number and the portion of the project that is to be transferred.  It is possible to retain responsibility for only part of a project, but to transfer a portion of the project to the new owner.  The person to whom you are transferring the permit is then required to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) to the state, and the current permittee may now file an NOT.

There is often some confusion over who is eligible to take over responsibility for a Construction General Permit.  The permittee must be either the owner or operator of the site.  This means that the general contractor for a project is eligible to hold the permit.  If for some reason the general contractor changes during the course of the project, the permit may be transferred to the new Operator.  However, subcontractors, such as landscapers, are not allowed to take responsibility for the permit, because they do not meet the definition of “operator” for the project.  If a contractor’s portion of a project is complete and they want to terminate their permit coverage before final stabilization is completed, then their only option is to transfer permit coverage to the owner.  The new permittee will then be responsible for all inspections and best management practices required by the Construction General Permit.

If you ever have any questions about the permitting process, contact your local stormwater coordinator.  Contact information for the ten communities in NebraskaH2O can be found under the Communities tab on this website.