Stormwater Spotlight: Colorado Springs into Action in the Fight Against Stormwater Pollution


For the last few years Colorado Springs has been dealing with a lawsuit from the EPA for violating their stormwater discharge permit in multiple developments. Due to this neglect, waterways have eroded their banks and created harsh cliffs in the process. There have been high pollutant rates, including large amounts of debris and trash filling waterways. One such waterway is Monument Creek [1].

While the lawsuit has not ended, Colorado Springs has already begun implementing stormwater SCMs to improve water quality of surrounding creeks. In 2019, over 19,000 pounds of trash were removed before reaching Monument Creek using two vault systems [2]. These systems hold a large net that acts as a physical filtration method to collect trash and other solids found in the water. While there are two main nets, which collected the 19,000 pounds of trash, 26 other smaller nets are scattered around the county to remove debris from other waterways as well [2]. These nets are cleaned out on an annual basis, and the collected material is properly disposed of to ensure that it will never make it into a waterway.

Citizens of Colorado Springs have also jumped into action by participating in the Adopt-A-Waterway Program. In 2019 alone, this program hosted 102 events and gathered 3,321 volunteers [3]. These volunteers donated almost $150,000 of man hours and removed 65,730 pounds of trash [3]. Paired with nets, that is close to 85,000 pounds of trash that did not reach Colorado Springs waterways.

What kind of debris is found in stormwater systems? In an interview with Fox21News, Water Quality Program Manager Jeff Besse said “Whether it’s accidentally or purposefully we’re talking plastic bottles, we’re talking Styrofoam, obviously a lot of sediment, baby diapers, you name it. It’s kind of like a landfill in there” [4]. A 2014 study performed by Contech to examine the most prevalent trash in stormwater systems supports Besse’s observation. While almost anything you would find in the average trashcan was also seen in the stormwater system, the study found that food and drink containers were by far the most prevalent trash source [5]. However, over 8% of the trash volume did come from cigarette butts [5]. This shows the importance of having net meshing fine enough to collect smaller debris because this litter is easily washed away in stormwater runoff, and can make its way to local streams, rivers, and waterways.

Brian Deurloo recognized how dangerous cigarette butts could be and founded the company Frog Creek Partners to fight them. Deurloo designed filtration systems designed to remove pollutants such as trash and sediment from stormwater systems to minimize their effect on the environment. These “Frog Creek’s Gutter Bin” systems are easily installed and can fit most storm drains [6]. The Denver Zoo installed Gutter Bins after a flood clogged their storm drains by carrying vast amounts of trash and sediment. It is estimated that the zoo now saves $40,000 a year in stormwater maintenance costs [6]. Downtown Denver installed just 15 Gutter Bins, and in one year over 3,000 pounds of trash was captured [6]. In a Denver Zoo press release Deurloo explained, “Probably one of the toughest parts of this job is getting people aware that stormwater pollution is a problem” [7].

References

[1] P. Zubeck, "Colorado Springs' neglect of its stormwater system leaves huge caverns citywide," Colorado Springs Indy, 13 September 2017.
[2] "These stormwater nets keep trash and debris out of Waterways," Colorado Springs , 6 July 2019. [Online].
[3] "Adopt-A-Waterway Program: It's up to each of us to keep our waters clean...," Colorado Springs, 2019.
[4] C. D. Jr., "Colorado Springs cleans out stormwater debris," Fox21News, 5 September 2019.
[5] H. Schlachter, "What Kind of Trash and Debris is in Stormwater Runoff?," Contech, 15 October 2014.
[6] C. Aadland, "Casper business aims to eliminate pollution from stormwater runoff," Casper Star Tribune, 23 November 2019.
[7] "Frog Creek Partners and The Water Connection work together to stop recurring flooding and stormwater pollution at Denver Zoo," Denver Zoo, 2019.