Op-Ed Piece: Let’s Work Together to Keep the Rio Grand!

Published: January 6, 2010 

By: Vernon Hershberger, University of New Mexico
Jerry Lovato and Kevin Daggett, Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority
Steve n Glass, Bernalillo County Public Works Division
Roland Penttila and Kathy Verhage, City of Albuquerque
Mark Murphy, Cuidad Soil and Water Conservation District
Kathy Trujillo and Reza Afaghpour , New Mexico Department of Transportation
David Stoliker and Trevor Alsop, Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority
(All members of the Mid Rio Grande Stormwater Quality Team)

Our stormwater system is a vital part of keeping our area flood-free and helping recharge the Rio Grande, yet most of us drive by this series of drains, inlets and concrete-lined arroyos without ever giving them a second thought.

The Bernalillo and Sandoval County metropolitan area covers a watershed of more than 250 square miles, almost all of it sloping toward the Rio Grande . During a typical summer rain storm, water races from the Sandia Crest to the Rio Grande , a drop of almost a mile. An elaborate storm drainage system is needed to prevent flooding of homes and streets. This storm drainage system is completely separate from the sanitary sewer system that serves the bathrooms inside your home or business.

Within Al buquerque ‘s 190 square miles alone, there are approximately 16,100 storm inlets leading to 722 miles of storm pipes. Billions of gallons of stormwater flow through this system every year, unfortunately carrying pet waste, garbage, sediment, chemicals and trash into the Rio Grande , with virtually no treatment. During an intense rain event, a piece of trash thrown into the street on Tramway can end up in the river in less than an hour! That is why protecting the quality of our stormwater should be a concern for everyone in our watershed, regardless of how close he or she lives to the Rio Grande .

The Mid Rio Grande Stormwater Quality Team was formed as a multi-agency coalition in 2004 to educate residents about how they can reduce stormwater pollution to help “Keep the Rio Grand” – our motto. The team includes the Al buquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA), Bernalillo County , the City of Al buquerque , the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District, the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (SSCAFCA), the University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

We have made significant strides in the past five years, but there is still a great deal to be done. At a few locations, expensive filtration systems are capturing a small portion of the pollutants in stormwater flowing off of our watershed, such as floating debris and sinking sediments. However, these filtration systems cannot remove serious pollutants like E.coli bacteria, automotive fluids or hazardous chemicals. Preventing pollution from entering the stormwater system in the first place is far more efficient and costs less than trying to extract pollution from stormwater before it reaches the Rio Grande .

The solution lies with each of us and starts at home. Here are 10 things you can do to help keep our stormwater clean:

1. Pick up pet waste in a bag, seal it and dispose of it properly by placing it in your household trash.

2. Fix your cars so they do not leak oil or other fluids. Wash your cars at a car wash or on your lawn so the dirty, soapy water doesn’t flow into nearby storm drains.

3. Mulch or compost leaves and grass clippings to keep them out of the gutter. Don’t sweep or hose them into the street.

4. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations about the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Don’t apply them to your lawn before a heavy rain. If chemicals fall onto driveways or sidewalks, sweep them up instead of hosing them away.

5. Turn your gutter downspouts away from hard surfaces and toward bushes, grass or trees to fill low spots in your yard or install rain barrels. Reduce runoff whenever possible.

6. Don’t litter. The streets belong to all of us, not just you. Cigarette butts, plastic bags, fast food containers, and packing materials such as Styrofoam ® peanuts are not biodegradable.

7. Keep lawn and household chemicals tightly sealed and in a place where rain cannot reach them.

8. Dispose of old or unwanted chemicals and paint at Albuquerque ‘s household hazardous waste collection site at 6133 Edith NE. There is no charge for this service. Call 345-1650 for hours of operation.

9. Never put anything in a storm drain. Remember the phrase, “Nothing but rain down the drain.”

10. If you have a septic system, have it pumped out and emptied every 3-5 years. It it’s an older system, be sure it can still handle the volume needed. And, never put chemicals down your septic system.

Through the combined efforts of Al buquerque and Rio Rancho residents and the Mid Rio Grande Stormwater Quality Team, we can have an efficient and effective stormwater system and a clean river for generations to come. Working together, we can “Keep the Rio Grand!”

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