Stormwater pollutant cleanup costs city $4,500

January 6, 2012

By Christina Lords

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A five-gallon bucket of latex-based paint recently dumped by a member of the public into a Newcastle catch basin has city engineers ramping up public education to get out the message regarding dangers — and costs — associated with stormwater pollutants.

The illegal dumping, known as an illicit discharge, resulted in about 5,500 gallons of wastewater that could not be treated by a local sanitary sewer system. While it is suspected the paint was released into one catch basin, 11 catch basins and 52 feet of open ditch lines had to be inspected during the process to ensure proper water quality.

The white water was discovered by a city crew in a drainage ditch on the corner of 129th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 73rd Place.

After a nearly four-hour, $4,500 cleanup process paid by taxpayer dollars, the polluted water was shipped to the Bravo Environmental treatment facility in Oregon for proper disposal.

“We do have a program in place, and our crews are trained to respond to these situations in a professional manner,” said Laura Frolich, a surface water engineer for the city. “We do preventative work … and it takes an educated public to be aware of these things.”

She said no long-term damage occurred because of the incident, but residents need to remain aware of the legal, financial and environmental consequences of dumping chemicals and other materials into stormwater.

While Frolich said the city is pursing enforcement action against those suspected of the incident to recoup expenses, more can be done to inform residents of Newcastle and contractors working in the area about the harm of dumping chemicals or other materials into stormwater.

If a resident or contractor is caught making an illicit discharge, they face fines, cleanup costs and disposal fees, she said.

The city plans to send out an informational brochure about stormwater pollutants and other stormwater-related topics in the coming months.

This spring, the city will join a regional campaign to reduce stormwater pollution by installing educational decals that say, “Puget Sound Starts Here” and “This drains to a creek and then to Puget Sound,” on all public open grates, catch basins and storm drains.

Storm sewer systems collect urban runoff, or rainwater, and convey it through pipes, ditches, detention ponds and water quality facilities, which eventually release the water directly into rivers and creeks.

The surface water drainage system is designed to filter out sediments and heavy metals, but any added pollutants are difficult to capture, degrade water quality and can have irreversible negative impacts to ecosystems, Frolich said.

There are two levels of pollutants the city aims to prevent from entering the water stream, she said. The city’s priority pollutants — which can cause the most damage to water quality and a healthy habitat — include ammonia, automotive products, bleach, degreaser or solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, gasoline and sewage.

The second level includes food waste, soap, silt, sediment, pool water, yard waste, rust, trash, animal carcasses or any other kind of debris.

“We really do encourage anyone that may have seen anything to report anything that looks unusual,” Frolich said. “All ditches, swales and conveyance systems should only have rainwater in them.”

The city’s illicit discharge detection and elimination program has three steps: prevent illicit discharges through education and community outreach; locate discharges through inspections and screenings; and correct the behavior of those who make illicit discharges through enforcement of municipal codes.

The city also inspects storm sewer lines with video techniques, Frolich said.

Call the city’s spill hotline at 649-4444, ext.137, if you witness a spill or notice water pollution. Residents can also call the Washington Emergency Management Division at 1-800-258-5990 toll free or the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 toll free if they spot or experience an illicit discharge.

 

 

 

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