By JESSE BURKHARDT
The Underwood Conservation District (UCD) plans a new approach to making people aware of the need to protect area streams and rivers.
Dan Richardson, an AmeriCorps intern working with UCD, approached both the Bingen City Council and the White Salmon City Council last week to place cautionary placards next to storm drains.
The project is in the process of being funded through a $1,117 Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife "Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account" grant.
The metal placards represent an upgrade from the more typical stenciling in paint, which offers a message urging people not to dump pollutants near the drains, as anything getting into the drain -- soapy water, oil, household chemicals -- goes directly to local creeks.
Richardson passed around a sample of the blue placards at the council meetings. The placards display a fish with the words "No Dumping/Drains To Stream" around it.
"I'd like to install these at storm drains -- it requires drilling to make them semi-permanent," Richardson told the councilors. "These will look better and last a lot longer than paint stenciling. It's a volunteer project, we're not asking for any remuneration."
In this area, Richardson explained that most of the storm drains flow into Jewett Creek, with some going into Dry Creek. Jewett Creek is a salmon-bearing stream at certain times of the year.
According to Richardson, there are approximately 200 storm drains in White Salmon, and another 60 in Bingen.
Richardson explained that the placards would be placed in areas with the highest visibility.
"The grant is for 100 placards, which represents a significant amount of outreach effort," he said. "This would help educate the public and raise awareness to a certain degree about the watershed around us."
White Salmon City Council member Mark Peppel said the city operations committee would not oppose the project, and City Administrator Pat Munyan said he did not see any problem with it.
However, White Salmon council member Richard Marx said he wondered whether placing the placards could potentially bring legal troubles for the city.
"To me, the placards suggest we are dumping. That's my view," Marx said.
Mayor David Poucher responded that the placards were simply an effort to educate people and prevent harmful dumping.
"It's not aimed at the city, but at individuals who might go to dump something and see that placard, and it makes them pause," Poucher explained.
"We're just trying to be educational," Munyan added.
"We're opening up a door to what is going into our drains, and we'll need to have a pollutant test done. Every action has a reaction," Marx said. "Now we're headed to needing to build a stormwater retention plant. I get a weird vibe on it. Six months from now, we'll be in violation of something."
However, council member Adrian Bradford offered a motion to provide a letter of support for the storm drain placards.
"When there is heavy rain, if people are careless and dump down the drain, it goes right into the wastewater plant," Bradford said. "We need to remind ourselves, just don't do that. If you're there with a can of turpentine, don't dump that. It costs us all a lot more in the long run."
Bradford's motion was approved 4-1, with Marx the sole "No" vote.
Marx warned that the city was making a mistake.
"Within the next year, the city will be faced with a wastewater emergency," Marx said.
In Bingen, the City Council offered unanimous support for the project -- and went even further. Council members said they would consider helping to pay for the placards if necessary.
"Everyone thought it was wonderful," said Bingen council member Laura Mann. "If a grant does not come through or does not pay enough to get placards for all the storm drains, our council would be willing to consider sharing costs if it would get it all done."
"The grant is in process," Richardson said. "We should know by the end of April."