It Takes All Hands

A Kentucky county’s stormwater program brings residents on board to change behaviors and make maintenance and BMPs more effective

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If you want people to care about something, show how it benefits them. It’s an old concept, and it’s working to great advantage for the Oldham County Storm Water Management District in La Grange, Ky.

 

The two-year-old district is ensuring the success of its ambitious new Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program by involving all stakeholders. The program serves Oldham County and its co-permittees, the cities of Crestwood, Goshen, Orchard Grass Hills and River Bluff in the north central part of the state. It follows the guidelines of its U.S. EPA-issued Phase II permit. In September 2009, the county contracted with Veolia Water N.A. to handle day-to-day operations.

 

Veolia implements six Minimum Control Measures (MCMs) in the permit: illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction site stormwater runoff control, post-construction management, pollution prevention/good housekeeping, public education and outreach, and public involvement and participation. Technical improvements and water-quality improvements are largely results of public education and participation.

 

Tight teamwork

The stormwater management team has many members among Oldham County and Veolia personnel. County engineer Beth Stuber approves subdivision plans, and Louise Allen administers the planning and development department.

 

Ed Basquill, licensed professional engineer and certified project manager, coordinates issues and makes sure Stuber has input from the stormwater staff on anything related to water quality.

 

Stormwater manager Kevin Gibson handles inspections and manages daily operations. Mapping specialist Justin Reed is creating a digital map of system assets and has already found and corrected five illicit discharges. Courtney Steinmetz, community planner, is in charge of public outreach. Gibson, Reed and Steinmetz are all Kentucky Erosion Prevention and Sediment Control (KEPSC) certified stormwater inspectors.

 

The team’s inspection equipment includes a CCTV camera. The team coordinates closely with the county road department, led by Brian Campbell. The road crew performs pipe maintenance, repair and replacement and cleans roadside ditches. Veolia uses a proprietary database (called E3) to track work orders. It’s an Internet-based tool that creates work orders for scheduled maintenance and unscheduled repairs.

 

Imaginative solutions

Creativity and innovation are keys to the technical/maintenance and public education sides of the program. For example, the district inspects and manages the standard Best Management Practices (BMPs) in the system, including retention basins, rock checks and silt fences. The team used solid asset data from the beginning.

 

One stream was identified as a water-quality problem area. The county engineer pursued an EPA Section 319 nonpoint source pollution control grant to fund the cleanup. The county now manages that project with the University of Louisville, extending district resources while providing real-world engineering exercises for students. They’re restoring the stream through a large-scale bioretention BMP.

 

In fact, the Watershed Engagement Opportunities section of the county’s MS4 program specifically outlines ways to identify and install BMPs. “That part of our program is still in its infancy, and we’re evaluating some exciting opportunities,” says Basquill. “We think some of the best, most innovative ideas can originate with the contractors and developers closest to the everyday problems with stormwater. In fact, we’re starting up a demonstration grant program to motivate creativity in that area.”

 

Involving the public

Public education plays a major role because public awareness is key to the success of all other plan elements. “Most residents don’t understand the impact they can have on water quality and how they can help to maintain it,” says Steinmetz. “It can’t be done by one person. It takes the help and participation of the entire community to make a successful and healthy watershed.”

 

The State of Kentucky and the EPA make information materials available to MS4 programs. The district chooses materials based on what best addresses the county’s specific watershed issues. Oldham also develops some of its own materials.

 

“It’s cost-effective because there are tremendous resources available in the public domain,” says Steinmetz. “These resources need to be customized before printing, and we can do that in-house.” The county outsources printing and major mailings because that is more cost-effective.

 

The District distributes educational materials in a variety of imaginative ways. “We mailed a postcard to all residents within our MS4, informing them of ways they can help keep pollutants out of the waterways,” says Steinmetz. “It had a recipe on the reverse side so they would hold onto it longer.”

 

Steinmetz has also produced five 30-second public service announcements on animal waste, exposed soil, farm fertilizer, sewage and dirty water. They rotate on the county’s local cable TV access channel.

 

Productive events

Some of the best public outreach happens at events. During an Earth Day event at the local zoo, Steinmetz’s team used an EnviroScape display — a tabletop plastic model of a small community and associated streams — to show how rain washes pollutants into waterways. The presenter uses a spray bottle with food coloring to show how different surface impurities affect community water quality.

 

Steinmetz also uses the display for classroom stormwater awareness training. In March, she trained four classes of about 20 kids each. While the module was being set up in the hallway, teachers and students asked questions about how it works and its purpose.

 

Veolia Water provides schools with The Water Box, an educational tool it developed mainly for children ages 9 to 11. It includes 25 experiments and lesson plans. The county distributed 10 units for the 2010-11 school year.

 

As important as making the information relevant is making it easy to put the concepts to work. The district developed the Recipe for Clean Water Fact Sheet based on EPA information. Linda Fountain, county solid waste coordinator, led and scripted an Electronic Recycling Drop-Off event where people could deliver old electronic equipment and household chemicals.

 

Interactivity engages

Some of the best outreach efforts include interaction. The district’s rain garden demonstration program so far has given grants to seven residents. The district provides directions for creating a rain garden to capture water from a home’s rain gutters. The gardens encourage water conservation and reduce peak-flow runoff. Residents install the gardens, then submit receipts totaling up to $500 to the district for reimbursement.

 

The district also has a “Build Your Own Rain Barrel” program. Meanwhile, local Scout groups take part in a drain-marking program in which kids stencil “No Dumping — Drains to Waterway” on the street beside storm drains. Steinmetz and her team are working on a T-shirt design for the participants.

 

She believes such recognition would bring the outreach program full circle, acknowledging the importance of every person’s help in maintaining water quality.



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