Nonprofit routes stormwater education to local schools.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Everyone seems to have ideas about how to improve K-12 education. Some may crusade against standardized testing; others work to get healthier foods into cafeterias. For Kyrrha Sevco of Ecology Action, it’s time for schools to reconsider the “weed ‘n’ feed” approach to grounds maintenance, which sends fertilizer, pesticides and sediment trickling into local waterways. In Sevco’s view, schools’ efforts to clean up their own water acts can translate to hands-on lessons for students.
Ecology Action, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit, has launched the Model School Program in an effort to educate students about water quality while implementing projects to reduce schools’ polluted stormwater runoff. Two Monterey County schools, Carmel Middle and Chualar Elementary, have joined four in Santa Cruz County as pilot- year participants.
The nonprofit selected Carmel Middle School because it sits near the Carmel River, which drains into the Carmel Bay Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). State law prohibits pollution discharges into ASBS – leaving Peninsula municipalities, including school districts, scrambling to clean up their runoff to avoid steep fines.
Carmel school officials are happy to take part in a program that will fund brand-new curricula, class field trips and infrastructure improvements while doing the green thing. “Carmel Unified School District is making an effort to promote ecology,” says district business official Rick Blanckmeister, “so we thought that was a perfect fit.”
Chualar Elementary was chosen for the program because it sits among the Salinas ag fields whose runoff carries nitrates, sediments and pesticides to stormwater drains. “That also affects the Bay at some point,” Sevco says.
Last spring, the Resources Control District of Santa Cruz visited the six schools to scope out their stormwater practices and identify potential improvements. In the fall, teams of school faculty, Ecology Action staff and consultants will select one project per school to implement over the course of the academic year using funds provided by the State Water Resources Control Board. Projects may include downspouts to route stormwater into suitable drainage areas, sprinkler systems to keep fertilizers out of runoff, and Integrated Pest Management plans to reduce pesticide use.
Students won’t just gaze at the projects happening outside the classroom window. One class per school will focus on stormwater runoff and water quality using a special curriculum designed by the state Coastal Commission, Sevco says. Students will get their hands dirty restoring riverbanks with native plants to reduce erosion, sampling water to test for turbidity and temperature, and stenciling sidewalk messages to remind passersby that storm drains flow into the Bay. At the end of the school year, schools will host community events to showcase what they’ve learned.
Sevco hopes that the pilot programs will inspire other schools to take up similar water stewardship efforts, but they may be on their own for funding. The state grant of about $500,000 came from limited funds allocated under Proposition 50 to reduce nonpoint source coastal pollution. That cash won’t be available next year, Sevco says, but Ecology Action plans to scout for fresh funds as intently as Monterey County does for fresh water.