The UK, USA and Australia have experienced horrendous storms this Spring and no doubt we all have a story to tell about our own experiences. Maybe most of your city was without power for more than twenty-four hours, your neighbour’s home was wrecked by a fallen tree or maybe like most areas after heavy rain and storms, your area had the usual clogged drains along streets – filled with leaves and other rubbish, banking up in the road-side gutters and flooding the roads. Not at all very pleasant!
But, have you given serious thought to where this murky water goes and from where it has come?
This water in the gutters (storm-water runoff) which is on its’ way to the sewer system picks up not only the litter and debris along its’ travels but also the chemicals and metals washed down from your place of residence, from vehicles and other air-borne particles from all over that have settled everywhere and now washed into our drains. It is via these storm-water drains that councils move storm-water runoff away from your homes and businesses and to treatment plants. Look around your community or ask your local council where your sewerage treatment plant is located. You may be surprised to learn that it will be close to a water way – a bay or river or the ocean. Probably a Bay or ocean that you surf or swim in!
During heavy storms, excess water overwhelms the sewerage system – it overflows and sewerage is sent straight to nearby water sources. Ask a surfie about some of his or her experiences of surfing near to a sewerage outlet after a storm! As you can imagine, these “overflows” cause a major water pollution problem for communities – chemicals, heavy metals, household sewerage – ending up in our rivers (the water supply for many) and oceans – contaminating the water, poisoning the sea life (which we consume) and spoiling our recreational areas.
What to do?
We can all do some little thing to alleviate the problem. Don’t flick your cigarette butt onto the footpath or into the gutter (they end up on our beaches!), don’t litter the streets or anywhere else! Instead, do something positive such as: install a rain garden or permeable driveway that will soak up and filter the water; talk to your neighbours or apartment manager / concierge or the body corporate manager or your boss and; talk to your council member about the use of such green infrastructure in your community – roadside planting, green roofs, permeable parking lots. Just all common sense really!
Jan Couper M.Ed; M.Env.
Sustainability & Resilience Strategist