Storm water a critical resource
March 28, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. (March 28, 2013) -- Clean water is essential to human survival and a precious resource, especially in times of drought. Many residents and visitors to Fort Carson may not know a part of that resource is the water going into the storm drains in the streets and parking lots.
Storm drains are connected, in an intricate pattern of pipes and culverts, directly to the waterways that cross Fort Carson. Under streets, parking lots, homes and buildings, thousands of gallons of water flow during a rainstorm or snowmelt straight into the ditches and streams. This water is not treated at the wastewater treatment plant first; anything in its path is washed along and into the nearest body of water.
In turn, contamination of the water often occurs and the cost of bringing the water back to a usable condition increases for neighboring towns and cities downstream.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, oversees storm water on Fort Carson, as the flowing ditches and streams here are considered "Waters of the U.S", they belong to all American citizens. There are specific guidelines as to what may and may not actually go into the storm drains in order to keep the water as clean as possible.
Only storm water is allowed in the drains; however, there are some lawful exceptions, such as water from lawn watering and runoff from firefighting activities. All other contaminants, petroleum products, cleaning liquids, chemicals, trash and dirt are not, by law, expected to be released into the storm-drain system.
The burden these pollutants place on the overall storm water system and on water resources is heavy. Trash and dirt clog the pipes and drains, causing flooding. Petroleum and chemicals are extremely harmful to the environment, as well as expensive and difficult to remove from both soil and water. Very small amounts of pollutants cause tremendous damage to water resources.
One gallon of motor oil will contaminate a million gallons of water. It takes years to clean this type of contamination out of the environment.
One drop of trichloroethylene, a solvent, will contaminate about 75,000 gallons of water the size of an Olympic swimming pool. According to the EPA, people exposed to this contaminant in drinking water for long periods of time may be at increased risk for liver problems and cancer.
The EPA can bring action against Fort Carson for failure to ensure good water quality by keeping the storm water system clean. As a result, Fort Carson enforces these regulations to ensure compliance.
In November 2012, a community member was apprehended while in the act of rinsing transmission fluid off pavement into a storm drain, a class 4 felony. The charge was reduced because there was no ill intent. An estimated three to six gallons of transmission fluid were released onto the ground and some of it made it into the storm drain, resulting in the hazardous material spill control staff needing to clean up the contamination, which was costly.
Not only is water quality critical, but the quantity of available clean water in the region is of tremendous importance. The Fort Carson area typically receives about 15 inches of precipitation annually. The average over the past five years, however, is a little more than 10 inches per year, based on the U.S. Geological Service, said Rick Clawges, Directorate of Public Works Environmental division wildlife biologist consultant.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports that the year-to-date precipitation percentage of average for the Arkansas River Basin, where Fort Carson is located, is 61 percent, the lowest of all the major river basins in the state.
Colorado Springs Utilities, which supplies Fort Carson's drinking water, is instituting watering restrictions for all of its customers and higher rates for those who use in excess of their allowable amount of water, with the possibility of more severe restrictions. The area is headed for another season of drought, affecting not just drinking water supplies, but also farming, boating and fishing.
Clean water is in short supply, and even water that appears to be wastewater going down the
storm drain on the street will eventually be used by others. Never dump anything down a storm drain.