Stormwater runoff is the biggest water quality problem facing the waterways of the United States.  The Wake SWCD is working to protect Wake County’s land and water.

From the Garner-Cleveland Record and and News and Observer:

Tuesday, May. 22, 2012

School tackles environmental threat: $5,000 grant from Wake SWCD helps pay for stormwater project

By Sarah Nagem –

GARNER When it rained, water rolled off the roof of Timber Drive Elementary School and washed over a small playground behind the building. Years of erosion killed the grass, leaving hard dirt as a play surface for kids.

Judy Ratcliffe, who oversees building and grounds for the school’s Parent Teacher Association, knew something needed to be done. Sediment was making its way into the nearby stream that eventually flows to Lake Benson, which serves as Garner’s drinking-water source.

“It’s definitely an environmental concern,” Ratcliffe said.

The school won a grant from the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District to reroute stormwater runoff. The grant covered about 75 percent of the cost of the $5,000 project, while the school’s PTA is paying for the rest.

Earlier this month, workers removed the mulch the school system had put on the playground as a temporary remedy. Then they leveled the ground to reduce erosion and created a 5-foot-wide culvert to direct cleaner water into the tributary of Lake Benson.

Before the project, 17 tons of sediment were flowing into the water source each year, said Teresa Furr, a conservationist for the county. The murk of dirt and clay is harmful to fish and makes it harder and more expensive to clean the water, she said.

“It was overwhelming to me … to know how many tons of sediment were going into the stream,” Furr said.

Water runoff is common around older building projects; Timber Drive Elementary was built in the 1990s. Newer construction typically includes a pond or some other way to catch storm water to ensure less sediment flows into water sources, Furr said. Property owners, including homeowners, can apply for grant money to make upgrades. Furr said the county has done similar environmental improvements at two other Wake County schools.

In August, workers will fence off the playground area at Timber Drive Elementary for six months to allow grass to grow.

Ratcliffe hopes to use the experience to teach students about the importance of good water quality.

Representatives from the Soil and Water District will talk to classes about water runoff and why the project was necessary.

Students might be able to attend a water-quality program at White Deer Park, Ratcliffe said. A trip to the water-treatment plant also might be in store.

It’s important for kids to know that the water in our streams and lakes eventually makes its way into our homes, Ratcliffe said.

“I think making those connections, it’s going to make a lifetime of good choices about water quality,” she said.

The main playground at Timber Drive Elementary also has erosion problems.

The landscape is uneven and grass grows in patches. The school doesn’t have enough money to tackle the problem right away, Ratcliffe said, but she hopes it eventually will be addressed.

In the meantime, students are getting a lesson about water.

“It’s a really unique opportunity,” Ratcliffe said.