About 70 percent of Mothership Earth is covered in water, most of which is so saline it is useless for drinking, showering, agriculture and the like. The remaining 30 percent is in constant danger of going from pure to polluted in a heartbeat.
The danger doesn’t always come from a big oil infusion, as recently happened in the Gulf, or toxins washing into our streams and rivers from factories.
Nope, it comes from the stuff routinely put down our storm drains — anything from discarded antifreeze and restaurant grease to cleaning products, fertilizers and pet poop.
Boulder County is one of Colorado’s regions that restrict what goes down storm drains because there is no treatment process that keeps outdoor waste from swirling into our waterways.
“In the city of Boulder, for instance, if you throw your old motor oil down a storm drain, it will wind up in Boulder Creek,” says Bill Hayes, team leader of the county’s Partners for a Clean Environment (PACE) program.
So will all the other stuff the rain washes off of parking lots, driveways, roads, construction sites, gardens, etc.
Much of this pollution is inevitable. It’s for the preventable that the Boulder County Public Health Department has the Keep It Clean Partnership. KICP works with cities to help keep whatever isn’t rain out of storm drains.
Among other things, it contracts with PACE, the program that trains businesses to reduce their environmental impacts in 10 minutes. Once a business learns to, say, pressure-wash a restaurant patio without harmful chemicals, it is added to the PACE Allies list, posted on its website and shared with businesses looking for certified service providers.
“The certification came with the business when I bought it in January,” says Marc Anievas, owner of X-Stream Clean in Boulder. “Whether it’s a hospital or a restaurant grease pit, we can handle it with the same green cleaning products and techniques. The customer may not care that it’s green, but I do, and it feels good!” KICP also has residential interests covered. Its website points out the three common sources of pollutants and how to handle them — pet poop (dispose of in the toilet), fertilizers (use organic products and minimally) and vehicle maintenance fluids (recycle at the Boulder County Household Hazardous Waste center).
When washing your car at home, park it on the lawn rather than in the driveway. It’s not just cleaning products that run off but vehicle residues — oil, grease, fuel and traces of metals. Grass will absorb all this much better than our waterways.
By the way, if you notice a spill or illegal discharge headed for the storm drains — such as fuel or waste from a traffic accident, or a floor drain from a building leaking into the street — you can get the right attention paid to it by calling the Illegal Discharge Reporting Hotline at 303- 441-4444.
For more information, visit the Boulder County Household Hazardous Waste website at www.bouldercounty.org/recycling/hhw/hhwhome.htm, or call 303- 441-4800. Also check the KICP and PACE sites at keepitcleanpartnership.org and www.pacepartners.com.