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

State of Nebraska Construction Storm Water (CSW) Permit Update

The State of Nebraska NPDES Permit for Construction Sites to Waters was to expire on December 31, 2012.  It has now been administratively extended until a new permit is issued.  This post will address some frequently asked questions such as when the permit will be issued, how to reapply, and changes to the permit.  It has been reviewed by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for accuracy.

Q. The current state Construction Storm Water (CSW) permit expired in December 2012.  What permit should I be operating under right now?

A. The current permit (NER110000) is still in effect (under administrative extension).  Coverage under this permit is valid until the new permit is issued.

 Q. My project was authorized under the old permit.  Do I need to reapply after the new permit is issued?

A. Yes.  Once the new permit is issued, you will have a reapplication period.  This period will be either 90 or 180 days, depending on what the EPA allows.  During this period, you will either need to complete your project and apply for the termination of your current permit, or you will need to apply for authorization under the new permit.

Q. When will the new permit be issued?

A. The new permit will most likely be issued some time in 2013.  Before the new permit is issued, it will have to go through a ninety day EPA review, address any comments by the EPA, be on public notice for 30 days, and possibly undergo a public hearing, if so requested and justified by the development community.  NPDES permits are issued quarterly, so the soonest the permit could be issued at this point is October 1, 2013.  If this process takes more time, then it may be pushed to January 1, 2014, or later.

Q. What are some of the changes we can expect in the permit itself?

A. The new permit will include much more guidance in the permit itself, meaning it will be much longer.  It will include requirements for new controls, such as topsoil preservation, minimization of disturbance on steep slopes, and natural buffers.

Q. When will turbidity tests for construction site runoff be required?

A. The Effluent Limit Guidelines (ELG) numeric standard has officially been withdrawn, meaning that at this time, the EPA has no plans to require permits to include a requirement for stormwater sampling and testing on construction sites.

Q. Will the process of applying for a permit change in any way?

A. Yes.  Currently, a project is authorized seven days from the date that a Notice of Intent (NOI) is sent to the NDEQ.   Under the new permit, projects will be authorized fourteen days from the date that the NOI is mailed to the NDEQ.  This means that project managers will have to plan ahead a little more in order to obtain proper permit coverage before beginning a project.

Q. My project began under the old permit.  Will the site controls that I have installed such as sedimentation basins be grandfathered in to the new permit?

A. No.  Any ongoing project must update its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan and all of its on-site controls to meet the requirements of the new state permit.

Q. Who can I contact for help in obtaining new permit coverage?

A. The NDEQ will not be hiring any additional staff for compliance assistance.  Since every project in the state will need to go through this process, you can expect a longer wait time when contacting the NDEQ.  To aid in this process, NebraskaH2O will do our best to keep you informed of permit requirements via this website.  If you have specific questions not addressed here, feel free to contact us directly at (308) 630-8011.  If you wish to contact the NDEQ directly, the staff member you need to speak to is

Blayne Renner

(402) 471-8330

blayne.renner@nebraska.gov

 

 

 

 

Construction BMPs: Hazardous Materials Storage

Many materials used on construction sites can be classified as hazardous materials.  Some of the most common include fuel, oil, paint, concrete curing compounds, asphalt products, pesticides, herbicides, and septic wastes. The proper storage and handling of these materials is essential to good stormwater management. Every SWPPP should include procedures for hazardous material handling and storage as well as procedures for spill response and reporting.  For more information about both these topics, see below: Continue reading Construction BMPs: Hazardous Materials Storage

Scottsbluff Rain Garden and Tree Planting Demonstration Project

In 2011, the City of Scottsbluff was awarded a grant through the Greener Nebraska Towns Initiative.  The grant is funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust and administered by the Nebraska Forest Service and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.  This grant has made several demonstration projects possible throughout the City, and one of these projects was recently completed.  This project included an extensive tree planting demonstration and a series of three rain gardens designed to capture and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff.

The Site

The area for the demonstration project is a long, narrow strip of land alongside a one-lane, one-way street.  This area used to be underneath a two-way street, but when the street was reduced to one-lane as part of a quiet zone project, it left this long, oddly shaped area between the lane of traffic and the existing buildings and parking lot.  The west half of the project is essentially the entryway to our downtown area, and this made an excellent spot for a tree planting project to frame this entryway and make it more attractive. Continue reading Scottsbluff Rain Garden and Tree Planting Demonstration Project

Scottsbluff Rain Garden Update

In spite of having less than a third of our normal moisture for the year, the rain garden at the Scottsbluff Public Safety Building is looking great!

 

Rain Garden located at the corner of Ave B and 19th St in Scottsbluff

The Bee Balm is the only thing in bloom at the moment, but the rest of these plants are doing very well and we should start seeing more of them bloom soon!

 

 

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