SANDPOINT — On the surface, stormwater might appear to have a fairly benign influence on water quality.
But stormwater can carry with it some pretty nasty stuff — everything from litter and hazardous chemicals to fertilizers and PCBs. Even human microbial pathogens can creep into surface waters with stormwater.
Stormwater, also known as polluted runoff, is recognized as one the nation’s most significant threats to water quality, according to Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper.
“It’s kind of universal around the nation,” waterkeeper Executive Director Shannon Williamson said of the issue.
As a result, the water quality watchdog group decided to commemorate the 40th anniversary of implementation of the federal Clean Water Act by installing medallions around storm drains in the city to raise awareness.
The group obtained 150 of the badges from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. They read “DUMP NO WASTE, DRAINS TO LAKE” and feature an animated fish and drop of water arranged to resemble a Yin-Yang symbol.
Volunteers have so far installed about a quarter of the medallions due to uncooperative weather.
“I’m hoping next week that it stays dry for a couple of days in a row where we can head on out again and get the rest of them down before the weather really turns,” said Williamson.
City officials have estimated that only about 5 percent of Sandpoint’s stormwater is routed through a wastewater treatment plant. However, another 30 percent of stormwater runoff is treated through bio-filtration features such as swales.
Although no study has been done in Sandpoint, Williamson suspects most of the stormwater pollution is from petroleum products leaking from vehicles and fertilizers.
“There’s a lot of properties that have nice green lawns that go right down to the water’s edge and people are keeping them that way using a lot of fertilizers,” said Williamson.
Landowners in Bonner County are recommended to learn about the Pend Oreille Lake*A*Syst program, which offers landscaping ideas that aren’t so hard on water quality.