Written by Amy Bauroth
Just so long as it doesn’t happen too fast or all at once, most of us are ready for the snow to melt. That means our storm drains, the grated openings in the street, are going to be working overtime as melted snow and rain is moving through one of our most important urban infrastructures: the storm sewer system.
Sometimes people confuse storm sewers (see pictures to the left of a storm drain and outfall) with sanitary sewers. Sanitary sewer systems are underground pipes that carry sewage directly from places in our homes and businesses such as bathrooms and kitchens. The sewage in a sanitary system is treated at a wastewater treatment plant before it is returned to the river. No such treatment exists for the water that enters a storm drain. The storm sewer system is intended to prevent flooding and keep surface water from ponding in our urban spaces. When runoff enters a storm drain in West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead, that stormwater is not treated at a wastewater plant, but is discharged directly into the Red River or Sheyenne River through outfall pipes. So, it’s worth taking a minute to consider how to protect our rivers from all the substances and debris that could make their way to the storm drains as the weather warms.
Many ordinary activities can affect the river’s water quality. Of course, we should be very careful with automotive fluids. Even diligently fixing small leaks in our vehicles can prevent problems for river water quality. Washing a car is better done on a grassy surface where soapy water is soaked into the soil and won’t run off into the storm drain. Fertilizers or pesticides can make their way into the river through run off, especially if a lawn or garden is overwatered or excesses are not swept from the sidewalk. Even lawn clippings, leaves or sediment should be kept from the storm drains. And as for doggy doo? Well, you get the idea. When we all do our part, we can protect the water quality of the Red and Sheyenne Rivers keeping them beautiful for generations to come.
As summer approaches, River Keepers is getting ready for the Storm Drain Marking Program, a volunteer program that raises awareness about stormwater by linking human actions to pollution problems. This program is sponsored by the City of Fargo, City of Moorhead, and City of West Fargo. Perhaps you’ve seen an informational flyer on your front door knob, or maybe you noticed one of the storm drains that is already marked “No Dumping, Drains to River.” We work with individuals as well as volunteer groups (4th grade students and up). Check out https://www.riverkeepers.org/projects-activities/storm-drain-marking-program/ for more information. If you’d like to volunteer to spread the word on how a few good habits can make a big difference, contact Kim Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-356-8915.