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City's storm water department creates water exhibit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Water is the driving force of all nature," said Leonardo da Vinci, the iconic Italian Renaissance artist born in 1452.

"We must begin thinking like a river if we are to keep a legacy of beauty and life for future generations," said David Brower, a founder of Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters.

Their quotes are part of an exhibit assembled late last year by Charleston's Storm Water Department on the first floor of the city's parking garage along McFarland Street.

Lee Ann Grogg, who coordinates public education and outreach for the storm water department, said, "We are connected to our rivers more than we realize. People who boat and fish are tied to the river by those activities. But everybody knows the importance of our water.

"There is no better way than this present crisis to know how important the river is to us. It is really important that people know this. We can live longer without food than we can without water."

With its website, colorful pamphlets and an annual rain barrel contest, Grogg's department encourages people to keep chemicals, silt and other waste products out of our rivers.

"Some storm drains go straight to the river. We are in the process of mapping all our storm drains and sewer drains."

Charleston's Storm Water Department is particularly concerned about protecting streams and rivers from cigarette butts, car oil, grass clippings, fertilizers and other car contaminants.

Greg Robinson, a storm water compliance specialist, said, "We all have to think about this. We make little decisions every day, like what to do with cigarette butts. Every year, 100 billion cigarettes butts end up in our rivers. They have between 50 and 60 toxins in them.

"Construction run-off is a long-term issue. And people who use hoses to clean their cars near storm drains help put mud and fertilizers into rivers."

Silt at the bottom of a river, Robinson said, "encourages the growth of algae, which chokes out oxygen and kills fish.  

"Excessive silt chokes eggs in the bottom of a river. When eggs don't hatch, it reduces the number of minnows and small fish in the river," Robinson added.

The Kanawha River is between 40 feet and 50 feet deep. Most fish spawn just eight to 10 feet from the edge of the river, which is shallower.

"We often take water for granted," Grogg said.

Charleston's Storm Water Department distributes nine colorful leaflets describing the problems posed by water pollution and teaching people how to curtail that pollution.

The leaflets focus on: washing cars, backyard composting, recycling oil, home repair and remodeling, keeping pet waste out of storm drains and painting rain barrels.

"Rainwater that falls on city streets, parking lots, rooftops, industrial properties and lawns often becomes polluted by automotive fluids, industrial chemicals, and fertilizers before it enters the storm sewer system through catch basins and other drainage structures," according to the department's website: www.charlestonstormwater.org.

"Polluted storm water runoff is ... eventually discharged into our local rivers and streams without receiving any treatment. These pollutants can adversely affect water quality in local waterways, thereby creating a potential health hazard and degrading aquatic life habitat."

The federal Clean Water Act, supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency, requires cities to create public outreach programs, enact regulations to control runoff from construction sites, manage post-construction sites, promote pollution prevention programs and enact rules regulating "illicit discharge detection and elimination."

Charleston's Storm Water Department also encourages people to get rain barrels to collect water.

"If you had a rain barrel in use at the present time, the water could be used," the website states. "For consumption purposes, the water could be used after boiling. The present crisis brings to mind the use of water re-use systems not only for storm water quality issues but for necessity as well. Consider a rain barrel for your future if you do not have one now."

The Storm Water Department holds an annual contest to see who can paint the prettiest rain barrel.

Last year, Charleston Montessori School and Constance Calkins, a local interior designer, won top awards in the contest.

Many of the rain barrels were displayed along Washington Street on Charleston's East End. The barrels are featured on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/CharlestonStormwater.

The Storm Water Department is planning to host workshops about how to create and maintain rain barrels this spring and summer. Dates will be announced on the website.

The department can help people purchase rain barrels, with all the needed plumbing attachments, for as low as $65 each. People interested in purchasing them can visit: www.rainwatersolutions.com.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "Life in us is like the water in a river."

Grogg said, "Nothing rings more true than in the present situation. We depend on our rivers and waterways for survival."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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