Stormwater lessons are plenty

Friday, August 5, 2011
Lewisburg Stormwater Director Joe "Buck" Beard tests the stability of a stormwater sediment fence, designed to prevent siltation of rivers, creeks and streams.

Fifth grade teachers in Lewisburg are to be receiving age-appropriate literature about earth science -- erosion, gravity, critters living in water and the environment -- from a city department director whose other responsibilities will keep him from teaching the subject.

However, public education as well as enforcement of environmental regulations were two big parts of Lewisburg Stormwater Director Joe "Buck" Beard's job even before school started this week in Marshall County. Beard and a city consultant, Jim Patterson, environmental manager for St. John Engineering of Manchester, Tenn., made the point on Wednesday morning while discussing the challenges and opportunities surrounding stormwater.

It's not just rain falling from the sky.

That's part of the lesson plans 5th grade teachers could write with what Beard will be providing. Rain falls. Water rolls down hill. It collects dust and grit, and that becomes sediment, the biggest cause of water pollution. Muddy water, road grit and petroleum products can kill fish, crawdads, worms and bugs. They're part of an ecosystem that could be the subject of an earth science lesson.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has said children in 5th grade are at a real good age to target for these lessons," Patterson said during discussion at the city's sewage treatment plant offices. "Youngsters at that age absorb these lessons well and pass them on to their parents."

That effort is similar to recycling projects in elementary schools because at that age parents are likely to ask; what did you learn in school today?

Meanwhile, the front line enforcement of amendments to the Clean Water Act, first passed by Congress in 1972, is like a series of simple knots in a daisy chain. Individually, they're self evident, but when they're connected in a row, the combination is revealed to have far-reaching ramifications.

Silt fences are an immediately visible and relatively easy part of the city's $13 million expansion of its sewage treatment plant. Like other building construction, the project will require what regulators call a disturbance to the earth's surface and that can result in erosion during and after a rainstorm. As a result, regulators insist that silt fences be erected around construction sites.

Lewisburg's wastewater treatment plant is being expanded because when rain falls faster than the plant can treat what's delivered to the plant, there are times when partial treatment is all that can be provided, so there's pollution of the creek because of discharges from the plant.

"Those overflows are an illicit discharge," Patterson said. "From a stormwater program view, it is something we want to stop. They're not easy to deal with."

They are, however, something that many cities face, he said.

"They're not uncommon," Patterson said.

Beard's responsibility is stormwater quality, the city consultant said.

Partly because of his title, Beard gets calls from people complaining about flooding as a result of a storm drain being clogged by brush, and other obstructions.

"Then," Patterson said, "you're talking about a public works issue."

Beard says he and Lewisburg Public Works Director Kenny Ring work closely together. In fact, they'll both inspect a drain when there's too much water.

"Me and him ride together a lot to see," Beard said.

Patterson endorses that.

"There has to be an interrelationship between the two," the consultant said. "But there are different responsibilities."

So, as Beard is concerned about the quality of stormwater flowing after a rainstorm, Ring must deal with the quantity, Patterson and Beard said.

Meanwhile, 5th grade teachers are to be receiving literature from Beard's office in City Hall so they can include such information in lessons on science, or other subjects, depending on how creative they get when writing their lesson plans.