Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A renewed focus on floatables

One recurring question accompanies every summertime trip to the metro Mississippi River: Where is all this trash coming from? I’m not talking about the large scale objects that have been blatantly “dumped.” That stuff comes from people who suffer from both ignorance and apathy.

I’m talking about the floatables: The glass and plastic bottles that held beer, water, soft drinks or sport drinks; the plastic “fountain cups” that came from a fast food restaurant, coffee shop or gas station convenience store; the Styrofoam cups and bait containers; the plastic bags that held a loaf of bread or carton of milk from the neighborhood grocer or supermarket. These are floatables I have written about before, at DisposeOfProperly.com. (See “We’ll have to pay for our plastics,” and “Sacking one source of pollution.”)

Where does all this trash come from? Well, after paddling just past the many spillways that drain our streets of rain and snow runoff, you start to notice a pattern. There is consistently a debris field just downstream of many of those spillways. It doesn’t take long to realize that much of this trash is delivered to the river systematically… from your friendly neighborhood storm sewer.

Prevention is the best cure.
It does not take a rocket surgeon to realize that if we could stop more stuff from hitting the sewers, we could prevent a lot of this crud from hitting the river. So, this winter, I have begun a campaign that involves educating myself about various options. I’ve been in touch with Dan Kalmon from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (http://www.mwmo.org/), as well as Lois Eberhart, the Surface Water & Sewers Administrator for the City of Minneapolis Department of Public Works. Also, I had a chance to sit-down with Tim P. Brown, the Environmental Operations Manager for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (the MPRB owns much of the land along our adopted section of the Mississippi River, where this trash is most pervasive).

With each conversation, I have learned more about the politics of water management, the mechanics of storm sewer runoff, and the dynamics of how debris flows into the river from across the watershed. These are important alliances, because these people have the capacity to help me alleviate ignorance and develop some wonderful prevention ideas.

During one of these conversations, Dan Kalmon made a simple but profound remark to sum-up what I was telling him about my passion for prevention: “Every street is a tributary,” Dan said. I’ll be using that line a lot… and I’ll probably tell people I came up with it.

Thanks, Dan, Lois and Tim.... for sharing your intelligence. I know that I'm going to learn a lot (more) from you folks. And of course, I'll share that knowledge as best I can, right here.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

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