Sitler: Think about the watershed
Manager works with local authorities to educate public, mobilize
|Jeffrey A. Sitler (left) and Jessica S. Wenger affix a plaque near a storm drain on Grounds. The plaque reads “Do Not Dump — Drains to Creek,” and is one measure being undertaken to protect the local watershed.
By Matt Kelly
Did you know that everything that enters a storm drain flows unimpeded into local streams?
And Jeffrey A. Sitler, the environmental compliance manager in the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, wants you to think about this and other watershed issues.
To help you do so, he works with local authorities to educate the public on ecological issues. He and Jessica S. Wenger, an environmental compliance technician at U.Va., also mobilize volunteers to assist in the education effort.
For example, volunteers affix blue plaques, which bear the picture of a fish leaping over waves and the inscription “Do Not Dump — Drains to Creek,” on pavement near storm drains around the University. As a test, they have ordered 500 plaques for the pilot project. The city, county of Albemarle and Virginia Department of Transportation also are participating in this project in their respective jurisdictions. The new plaques will replace older, stencil-painted signs. Sitler wants to see how long they last and remain legible.
“We want to get people to understand what not to put down the [storm] drain,” he said.
Among the list of prohibited items: pet waste, soapy water, oils and chemicals. Sitler wants to stop “nonpoint source” pollution, or pollution that comes from normal daily activities and small localized incidents.
“All [local] streams are considered severely impacted from run-off,” he said. Run-off is defined as rainfall flowing overland into a body of water, according to Sitler. Urban areas produce more runoff because of high percentages of paved area.
As part of the University’s storm water discharge permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality, Sitler helped form an educational partnership with Charlottesville, Albemarle , VDOT, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Rivanna Sewer and Water Authority. (For more information, visit: http://rivanna-stormwater.org.) The state permit requires public education, outreach, involvement and participation; detection and elimination of illicit discharges; control of storm water run-off on construction sites and post-construction; and a program of good housekeeping practices.
“Except at [Parking and Transportation], washing vehicles is no longer allowed at the University,” Sitler said, since soapy water can run into storm drains. City and county residents should wash cars on their lawns, where grass and soil can filter soapy water and particulate matter. “Of course, an alternative would be to take your car to a local car wash where the wash water is placed in the sanitary sewer,” Sitler said.
Organic material also can compromise stream health. University lawn mowers have been instructed that grass clippings should not be left in the street, where they can wash into storm drains. Pet waste and grass clippings stress streams by adding bacteria and nutrients, which requires more oxygen to break down, thus robbing oxygen from the creatures that live in the stream, Sitler said.
“Because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good,” Sitler said.
State environmental researchers found high bacteria counts in Moores Creek, which receives drainage from the southern half of the University, so Sitler is looking into ways of reducing pet waste and looking for sewer line leaks.
In an effort to promote good habits, Sitler has worked with Parking and Transportation and Facilities Management to install oil and water separators to eliminate pollutants going into the drains.
Sitler “has helped us with so many things, such as canopies, drains and fuel handling,” said P&T director Rebecca White.
Parking and Transportation officials have installed special drains around the University so storm run-off — and nothing else — goes into the storm drains, White said. The rest, such as bus washing residue, is diverted into the sanitary sewer. Canopies have been placed over the fuel pumps, and berms have been installed around them to prevent run-off and to capture spills.
“We have a pollution protection plan for the whole department,” White said.
With Sitler’s help, Facilities Management has changed its road salt storage at its Alderman Road facilities from a pile in the open, with canvas and plastic tarps thrown on top of it, to a two-bay, three-sided structure with a raised concrete base. With the new facility, salt is no longer washed from the pile, and the dry salt handles better, Sitler said.
Sitler “is very accommodating, and he makes himself available when we have questions,” said Richard M. Hopkins, superintendent of landscape and general services.
Facilities Management is working on moving its diesel fuel tank to avoid run-off problems, Hopkins said. Facilities vehicles are washed at commercial ventures or at Parking and Transportation’s garage, and landscaping crews are scrupulous with agricultural chemicals.
“We pay attention to the chemicals we use, going with organic fertilizers, and taking soil samples, so we fertilize only what the plants need,” Hopkins said. “We check the weather before we do any spray treatments, to reduce run-off.”
There is no weed treatment on the Lawn, though he said some herbicide is used to keep weeds down on sidewalks.
“People usually want to change, so we are working with them and trying to be reasonable,” Sitler said.
He also works with contractors on sediment and erosion controls at on-Grounds construction sites. At the new arena and at the Ivy Road Parking Garage, stream reconstruction has been incorporated into the plan to contain site run-off and to slow storm water movement. The daylighting of Meadow Creek next to the Dell and installing a retaining pond on Emmet Street also are part of the storm water run-off control
“A lot of this is just educating people,” Sitler said.
For more information on stormwater management at U.Va., visit: http://keats.admin.virginia.edu/stormwater/home.html.