An Aquafina bottle, a dozen cigarette butts and a pile of grass clippings were perched on the edge of the storm drain at Again Street Park on Thursday morning.
After the next rain, the drain will be clean but our streams will not. The stormwater will wash the debris into our streams, where it will come to rest on the banks or stream beds, or possibly float downstream from Perche Creek to the Missouri River, east to the Mississippi and then empty into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s already plenty of mess there.
Single-use containers, such as plastic beverage bottles and Styrofoam cups are the most common items scooped up by Missouri River Relief, said Steve Schnarr, a program manager for the river stewardship group.
I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise considering the Aquafina bottle I saw in the drain is one of a thousand discarded every second of every day by Americans, according to Peter Gleick’s new book, “Bottled and Sold.” But I digress.
Bottled water isn’t the issue today — managing stormwater is, particularly how the city, county and MU will work together to achieve a 50 percent reduction in stormwater flow, whether that's even possible, if it will solve the problems in Hinkson Creek, and what you and I can do to help.
The creek isn’t supporting aquatic life and beneficial uses in accordance with the Clean Water Act; too much stormwater flow might be contributing to that issue, and there’s not enough money to address the problems.
The Hinkson has been on the 303(d) impaired stream list since 1998, but how to accomplish moving it off that list is a complicated question, especially because it runs right through Columbia, where there are a variety of interests and opinions. The newly appointed stormwater advisory board won’t be bored.
One thing all parties agree on is the need for solid data.
Jason Hubbart, an MU forestry professor, has been monitoring the Hinkson since fall 2008 using state-of-the-art equipment to monitor depth, suspended sediment and many climate variables. In two years, he’ll have a data set that can help inform the current Total Maximum Day Load, or TMDL, which sets a standard for the maximum quantity of a pollutant that can enter a stream while maintaining the designated water quality standard.
The solutions are tied to increasing the amount of life in the stream. A dearth of macroinvertebrates, such as mayflies and stoneflies, was why the Hinkson was put on the 303(d) list, said Steve Hunt, environmental services manager for the city, who questions the reality of reducing flow by 50 percent.
“I don’t know how you’d reduce the flow by 50 percent short of going above the city and damming the creek, and we’re not going to do that,” he said.
Hubbart said that reducing flow doesn’t necessarily mean reduced pollution. If you’re not reducing the source of pollution, the contaminant is still there; it’s still the same amount of pollutant, but with less flow, so it can be more concentrated, he said.
While stakeholders interpret the rules and try to devise a plan to move forward, you can take actions that will help protect our waterways, save money and beautify your yard.
Follow your gutters and ensure your runoff isn’t turning your neighbor’s basement into an indoor pool. If you do have a drainage issue, talk to your neighbor(s) about collaborating on a solution. Mike Heimos, city stormwater educator, and his neighbor are installing a rain garden in a low, erosion-prone spot near their shared property line. They’re splitting the costs and labor.
If your gutter is emptying into the street, and thus flowing into our streams, look for a way to redirect it into your yard or install a rain garden, which will hold water and allow it to slowly infiltrate the soil. If you plant native plants, which grow deep roots, you’ll help water percolate through our stubborn, clay soils.
Barrels help you slow the stormwater from rushing into our creeks, but they are just one part of reducing stormwater flow. If your roof is 2,000 square feet, you would need 22 barrels to capture all of the rainwater from a storm dropping 1.3 inches of rain. We have three, so we're making a small ripple in the stormwater problem, but we're saving money on water and nurturing our garden with rainwater — which is what plants prefer.
Mike Heimos has many other simple tips to improve our waterways.
“Don’t litter, sweep the (lawn) fertilizer up, make sure your grass clippings are cleaned up, try not to water as much. If you have motor oil or other hazardous waste, take it to HHW (Hazardous Household Waste), go out with your kids and put down storm drain markers. Be a good neighbor,” he said.
Since last October, Heimos has led 1,200 volunteers for cleaning up streams and educating neighbors that storm drains flow directly to our streams. In a stretch of the Hinkson in Capen Park, they’ve pulled out whole refrigerators, shopping carts, car batteries, tires, tubas and containers of oil with the lid still on, he said.
You can learn more at the Show-Me Yards and Neighborhoods free workshop Aug. 28. Speakers will address these issues and many more for maintaining a healthy lawn without dangerous chemicals.
“We can think about our impacts to water quality and the availability of water, but we should also think about the effects of how we manage our own little speck on the planet and how it affects the folks that are on the little speck next door. If we do both those things then we’re doing better environmentally,” Hubbart said.
Michael Burden is a journalism graduate student at MU, a graduate instructor and the MU campus representative for the Peace Corps.