Creative thinking: using art to educate about storm drains and the Bay
Happy Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week! This week, DEP is focused on educating residents about the Chesapeake Bay and how we can all help protect this vital resource.
Kicking off the week, DEP staff– including Director Lisa Feldt– headed out to Germantown Public Library on Saturday for a storm drain art project. Volunteers from the local community joined in, and together the teams painted colorful and eye-catching designs on to the concrete top of the library’s storm drains. The designs selected for this project were drawn by County resident Chris Mai Dzuong-Webb. The volunteers also incorporated positive messages to the community into the design.
Once complete, the artwork teaches visitors to the library about the importance of not dumping into the storm drains. Although the Chesapeake Bay might seem very far away, the Germantown Public Library (and in fact all of the County) eventually connects to the Bay.
A piece of litter dropped into the storm drain at the Germantown library will be carried by stormwater into Churchill Tributary, which then travels to Little Seneca Creek, to Seneca Creek, to the Potomac River, and finally, is dumped out into the Chesapeake Bay!
Though residents of Germantown may live about an hour and a half away from the Bay, their actions can directly affect the Bay and the environment around them. The final storm drain masterpiece stands as a constant source of encouragement, reminding all residents that we can prevent pollution. View all the pictures of this project.
The big message? Be mindful of what you put down the drain.
What’s the deal with storm drains?
It’s a common misconception, but storm drain are not treated. Most of the storm drains in Montgomery County actually flow directly into local streams. Frequently, we confuse storm drains with sewers, which can create some problems.
Sewers are systems used for wastewater. Basically, any water used inside a building goes into the sewer. That means at home, water from your toilet, bathtub, kitchen sink, and washing machine all go into the sewer pipes. From there, that water flows to a treatment facility, where it is cleaned, sanitized, and released back into our waterways. For most of Montgomery County, WSSC is in charge of managing sewers and wastewater.
Storm drains, on the other hand, are outside drainage structures used for rain and any water that flows outside. Unlike sewers, the water coming in and out of storm drains is not treated. This means that when residents illegally dump pollutants, like grass clippings and oil, those pollutants will flow straight into our streams. From there, polluted stormwater will flow into rivers, and those rivers will ultimately flow into the Bay.
Once in our waterways and the Bay, pollutants wreak havoc on our aquatic ecosystems:
- Decomposing grass clippings, and the fertilizers we put on that grass, add excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen into the water. This overdose of nutrients creates huge algal blooms. When the algae die, they consume oxygen– and a lot of it. The surrounding area becomes void of oxygen, and many organisms either die or lose their habitat.
- Oil can ruin the water repellency of water fowls’ wings, leading to hypothermia. It can also cause deformities in fish and shellfish.
Our Bay…Our Responsibility
As Marylanders, so much of our culture, economy, and ecosystem depends on the Bay—the Chesapeake is one of the things that makes us so great! That’s why DEP decided to paint storm drains. In doing so, we accomplished 3 things:
- Beautified a normally drab and unseen part of our community
- Addressed a concern raised by the local community
- Educated and promoted good actions for the Bay
The storm drain art team focused their attention this week on the Germantown Library, because that area also happens to be the site of several illegal dumping complaints. Every time a resident reports a case of illegal dumping to DEP, the County documents the occurrence, and uses the data to determine which areas are high priority for cleanups and education.
Bay Awareness Week isn’t over yet, and we still have so much more to do! We hope you’ll join us in our efforts, and celebrate and protect the Bay for weeks and weeks to come. Check the My Green Montgomery calendar for future storm drain art volunteer projects and other events that help protect our environment and streams.
For more information about Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, and for a schedule of events, visit The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s page.
To learn more about the local streams in your area and your waterway to the Bay, click here.
By Elizabeth Scanlon, intern with the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection