Monday, October 7, 2019

Managing highway runoff for better water quality

By Jana Crawford

It’s always been our goal to get stormwater off our roadways as fast as possible. We manage stormwater runoff to ensure traveler safety and to reduce damage to the roadway. Today, while safety and preservation continue to be top priorities for us, we also recognize that stormwater runoff from highways and other paved surfaces can contribute to water quality problems.
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A stormwater pond along I-5 near Salmon Creek in the Vancouver area.

The main problems associated with stormwater runoff are water pollution, erosion, and flooding. We know our paved surfaces are part of the problem and we are working together with the state Department of Ecology to be part of the solution. When we make improvements in stormwater management, we help reduce pollutants in our streams and rivers, contribute to salmon and Puget Sound recovery efforts, and reduce flooding and erosion.
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Members of our maintenance team inspect and work on a catch basin to ensure it’s working properly.

In spring, Ecology re-issued our permit that regulates stormwater runoff from state highways, rest areas, park-and-ride lots, ferry terminals, and maintenance facilities in urban areas throughout the state. One part of the permit requires us to develop a Stormwater Management Program Plan that describes how we will implement the permit’s requirements. We’re submitting an updated stormwater plan to Ecology by Oct. 31 and we’d like feedback from you to help shape the plan. If we receive your comments before Friday, Oct. 18, we will consider them before finalizing the plan this year. Any comments received after this date will be considered for next year’s stormwater plan update.

These are some of the ways we manage stormwater:

  • Mapping the pipes and structures built to move and treat stormwater.
  • Building facilities that remove pollutants or control the flow rate and volume of runoff as part of new construction projects that add new roadway.
  • Building facilities that remove pollutants along highways where stormwater treatment currently doesn’t exist, focusing in areas with the highest environmental benefits relative to cost.
  • Inspecting and maintaining catch basins and stormwater facilities by cleaning out accumulated sediment to ensure facilities function as intended.
  • Implementing vegetation management practices along highways and other transportation facilities to reduce the use of herbicides.
  • Training staff on methods for managing stormwater and preventing pollution.
  • Conducting and participating in stormwater monitoring research to help define, analyze, and answer stormwater issues including developing new BMPs or improving existing stormwater BMPs.
  • Implementing erosion and sediment control on construction projects.
  • Identifying and working to resolve discharges into our stormwater system that may contain polluted water.
  • Participating in various workgroups regarding water quality and coordinating stormwater management efforts.

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Crews implement erosion protection on SR 6 near Rock Creek, west of Chehalis.

What can you do to help?

Pollutants that run off the highway are mostly from motor vehicle “wear and tear” and emissions, as well as particle-laden smokestacks. Untreated stormwater runoff from highways can carry these pollutants to water bodies. Here are some ways you can do your part:

  • Report spills and discharges to the appropriate responders listed on our Report a spill website
  • Keep your vehicle properly maintained – fix drips and leaks and tune your vehicle’s engine.
  • Choose to leave your vehicle at home – fewer vehicles on the road mean less congestion and idling, less vehicle residue, and cleaner air due to reduced emissions – try transit, carpools, telecommuting, walking or bicycling.
  • Use a vehicle trash bag and secure your loads – litter on roadways can end up in waterways – don’t toss trash from your vehicle and make sure the loads you haul won’t blow out the back.
  • Become an Adopt-a-Highway volunteer or sponsor.
  • Consider purchasing a low-emission vehicle when it comes time to replace your existing car – vehicle emissions contribute to the pollutants found in stormwater runoff.
  • Park your vehicle and go inside to purchase your coffee or fast food – idling vehicles at drive-ups contribute to pollutants that find their way into stormwater runoff.
  • Pick up after your pet at rest areas and along roadways – organic materials contribute to stormwater runoff pollution.

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Volunteers with the Adopt A Highway program help clean roadsides, an important part of our stormwater work.

These small actions can make a big difference in our state’s environmental health – let’s all do our part!