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Bellingham
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Solutions for stormwater run deep

Photo by Ian Koppe
Photo by Ian Koppe

By Alyssa Evans

Frigid winds and a dreary gray sky weren’t enough to hinder the plans of curious citizens. Filled with a desire to learn more about their community and how they can improve it themselves, they followed for hours in the stormy winter weather to learn about stormwater management systems.

RE Sources is a local organization that promotes sustainable communities and protects the health of Washington citizens and ecosystems, according to the RE Sources website. RE Sources Pollution prevention specialist, Lee First, led a group of intrigued community members on a tour Saturday, Jan. 16.

City of Bellingham Stormwater Engineering Technician, Mark Howard, and RE Sources volunteer, Hank Kastner, assisted First in teaching the group about local stormwater management facilities. The tour, beginning in Fairhaven, featured stops including the Firehouse Performing Arts Theater, Matthei Place, Buchanan Towers and Millworks Cohousing.

When BT was expanded to include BT East, low impact development features and stormwater treatment facilities were required by Washington’s Department of Ecology to ensure rainwater was treated.

Situated behind the BT parking lot is a cluster of nine rain gardens. These are small gardens full of vegetation that work to manage any runoff water from the dorm’s roofs.

Along 24th Street, stormwater runoff from roads is treated in a large one-year-old rain garden. Designed to contain flows from two, 10, 20, 50 and 100-year floods, the structure is separated into sections to prevent water from overflowing, First wrote in an email.

The drainage area this garden could handle is quite large, Howard said. When 25th street was redone, it was viewed as redevelopment under the city’s guidelines and therefore, had to mitigate for the treatment, he said.  

“There’s a flow splitter and it diverts water. The volume of water it diverts is in compliance with those guidelines,” Howard said.

In the structure, water flows into the first section, then goes through a pipe underneath to the next section and so on until water eventually reaches the last section. The structure regulates the flow of water to the city system, and treats the water, Howard said.

First encourages citizens of Bellingham to help prevent stormwater pollution in their own communities.

“The more we can do on our personal property the better. Every one of us contributes to stormwater pollution. We can help by driving less, we can help by creating rain gardens and more previous surfaces at the places we live and we can talk to our neighbors and try to get them to do the same thing, try to get them to stop doing things like washing their car in their driveway, that sort of thing,” First said.

On campus, Western students are also learning about stormwater management. Western junior Willa Cooksey, an environmental policy major and the Students for Environmental Equity and Disaster Reduction (SEEDR) president, learned about stormwater management in both wilderness and urban settings in her Environmental Systems course.

“Because of the high usage of cement, there is a lot of runoff which causes problems with backup, which can cause sanitation problems and is just generally bad for the environment because it has a high peak flow,” Cooksey said.

To learn more about RE Sources, visit www.re-sources.org.

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