“What’s Your Clean Water Savvy?” was the theme of a survey of Cheltenham residents completed over the past several months. The survey was a cooperative effort of the Township (using an online survey), the Cheltenham Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), and TTF.
Over the past dozen years, TTF and the township have used different outreach strategies to educate folks that stormwater runoff is the top source of pollution, erosion, and flooding in the TTF watershed. The survey gave us the chance to measure the effectiveness of these messaging efforts.
What is runoff?
We asked people to define “nonpoint source” pollution –well over 80% were right! It’s runoff from streets, roofs, parking lots and yards that carries contaminants into the creeks.
Over 80% of respondents also correctly understand that road runoff goes into storm drains which lead directly to our creeks. Road runoff carries oils, grease, antifreeze and dirt into creeks, and is the largest contributor to nonpoint source pollution. It is encouraging to know that this message is being heard.
What about sump pumps?
Sump pumps caused some confusion among survey respondents. Should these drain into the sewer, storm drains, or instead discharge to a yard area where the water can soak into the ground? Those who answered “onto yard grass” were right! Sump pumps are designed to keep groundwater out of your basement. Adding this water to the sewer system hurts the ability of the sewers to handle what they are supposed to carry.
Is it Ok to wash your car in the driveway? Just about everyone realized that soapy, dirty runoff is very harmful to creeks and needs to be avoided by using a professional carwash. Or, second best is washing your car on a lawn area that will capture the dirty water.
It was positive to learn that just about everyone surveyed knows that tree limbs, grass clippings and leaves should NOT be dumped into or next to creeks (where they can carried into the creek during high water events).
Our stormwater system and you!
Arcadia students mark storm drains in Wyncote
The stormwater collection system is complex and largely hidden, so it’s very easy to not realize how it works. Designed to be completely separate from the sanitary sewer system, it handles many times the volume of the sewer system.
Unlike the sewer system, however, rainwater is often not managed through a system of pipes. In the ideal scenario, rainwater would soak into the ground after falling. The reality is that older communities were designed to have stormwater run off as quickly as possible, eventually flowing into creeks or pipes leading to creeks. Our creeks quickly fill up any time there is any significant rain, which causes erosion and takes a seriously impacts creek life.
It’s important for all of us to realize of our personal and community decisons on the health of our creeks and watershed. We are encouraged that more and more people understand the runoff message, since we know that significant improvements will be achieved through hundreds of small steps.