Some thoughts on Storm-water pollution

Water quality in the United States may be one of the most understated concerns facing future generations.  As the spread of human development continues to grow, the concerns and understanding of maintaining a vibrant and consumable water supply chain continue to push their way to the forefront of society and governmental concerns.  As Americans we do many things to put our water at risk of being safe for our planet.   While oil spills, hazardous waste and major contaminants like sewage are items that bring recognition to most peoples consciousness, especially when concerning the impact to drinking water, this is not the case for one of most common daily sources of pollution to our open water sources.  These contaminants, known as Non Source Pollutants (NSP’s), threaten to destroy our lakes, streams and watersheds on a consistent basis.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the direct street to stream aspect of storm-water runoff and is one of the primary culprits of this growing pollution source and education is one of the most valuable solutions for solving this problem.  

Non Source Pollutants are  the wide range of incidental chemicals and elements that end up in natural watersheds through particulate collection of materials by water as it  travels from humanized environs to natural biospheres.  The incidental nature of NSPs are at the core of the dangers they represent.  According to the EPA, “The term “nonpoint source” is defined to mean any source of water pollution that does not meet the legal definition of “point source” in section 502(14) of the Clean Water Act. (EPA, web).  The secondary primary  aspect of this water is that it is not processed by municipal water treatment facilities.  According to Aurora, Colorado Water’s website,  “In an urban setting these (NSP’s)  include: pesticides and fertilizers, automotive fluids from leaks including oil and antifreeze,  as well as a wide variety of chemicals that are leaked or spilled within our communities.” (Aurora Water, web).    These chemicals are generally absorbed by water during precipitation and flow through storm water systems to open source water where the contaminants can gather and have a greater impact on their surroundings.   Additional items considered NSP include bacteria, viruses and trash or litter.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NSP pollution can have negative impacts on the economy through: shipping issues, tourism, and available foodstocks.  

    In addition to liquid chemicals, plastic and other man-made material pollution is being studied in many areas for the chemicals that they can leach into the environment in addition to the problem they pose as litter.   This type of pollution is relatively new in scope as it is a secondary pollutant to water and a direct result of littering, or improperly disposing consumed goods for recycling or landfill.  Examples of this include but are not limited to: grocery sacks,metal food containers, drinking bottles, tires, and shoes.  As these materials are exposed to a variety of climatic conditions they can leach or release chemicals  as water comes into contact with it.  One of the major chemicals known to come from plastics is BPA or Bisphenol A.  It is a highly used chemical in certain plastics that has been proven to mimic estrogen when consumed by humans , According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH), “Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.”  (NIH, web)

    To solve the impacts of both chemical and litter pollution from impacting storm-water runoff directly, governments have established a wide variety of solutions to directly counter the variety of sources that fall under the NSP category.  The internet has become an extensive resource for providing general access to educational resources for a wide variety of community solutions.  These range from ready to print flyers and classroom modules to details of infrastructure improvements and plans that impact collection and capture of water. In addition, special collection days and community activities like litter remediation continue to prove valuable techniques in reducing the quantity of NSP’s in our storm-water systems and natural waterways.  

    As the demand for water increases in urban communities like Aurora, concerns for development of additional water collection are under active consideration.  The Prairie Waters Project (PWP) is an example of one such project.  This project will divert river water from the Platte River where it will be transported and then processed for consumption before being returned to sources downstream or away from the of the collection point.  It is important to note that much of the water will have come from storm-water runoff that is  naturally filling the South Platte River.  It is important to consider that this water will have NPS’s contaminants from farms, forests, animal and rural activity upstream of the collection point. Besides transporting elevated nutrient content and suspended sediments, bacteria and viruses may be in the water being transported.  In the map of the PWP’s infrastructure plans, it is important to note that part of this system includes a storm drain bypass that will feed directly into the Aurora reservoir.  

This presents potentials for elevated levels of contamination as storm-water runoff could contaminate the reservoir itself.  To alleviate these risks, monitoring of water quality at both the Platte River and along the Storm Drain Bypass Extension will have to maintained as well as increased monitoring of potential sources of pollution upstream whose activities could change classification status to ‘Source Point’ pollutants.  In addition, it will be necessary  to monitor the ways that new  NSP nutrients will impact the overall health of the Aurora Reservoir.

    to the varying nature and impact of Non-Source Pollutants on our water system, as well as the wide array of possible initial sources, non source pollutants are a danger to natural ecosystems as well as viable groundwater sources for human consumption.  Their impact on the environment can be hard to directly measure as these pollutants accumulate over time generally on non permeable surfaces and generally accumulate during a precipitation event.  Because these events are varied and are not regulated, the frequency at which they occur and the rates they introduce accumulated pollutants is hard to capture or resolve.  This causes the primary methods of monitoring watersheds, maintaining riparian zones for diffusion of pollutants as well as education processes and active community efforts to limit and control non source pollutants in urban areas necessary practices.  I believe the monitoring of watersheds and potential source points is expected to expand as our society grows.  Understanding how this need will expand or need to be intensified for downstream communities will be a problem that will likely continue to grow.

Works Cited

“Aurora – Prairie Waters Project.” Aurora – Prairie Waters Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

“National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.” Bisphenol A (BPA). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

News Releases By Date.” 10/30/2013: EPA Announces Cleanup Plan for the Ellis Property Site in Evesham Township, New Jersey; EPA Cost of Removal of Contaminated Soil Estimated at $13.6 Million. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013

“Nonpoint Source Pollution.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service Education:. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

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One thought on “Some thoughts on Storm-water pollution

  1. Pingback: The Midway Atoll – an example of Plastic’s Destructive Power | CutThePlastic

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