Sunday, September 23rd marks BC Rivers Day, a day to highlight the many values of rivers and increase public awareness and stewardship of rivers around the province.
Here in the Columbia Valley, we are incredibly lucky to host the source of the Columbia River and to have good water quality that allows us to swim, drink, and fish in this water. The same cannot be said for our downstream neighbours in Oregon, where toxic pollution and bacteria make the Columbia River unsafe even for swimming in some places!
But because we are right at the source of the river, we also have a collective responsibility to protect its water quality. This week, I want to draw your attention to stormwater, and to share some tips for how you can be a better stormwater steward for your river!
What is stormwater?
In this context, stormwater describes large amounts of rain that falls onto hard or paved surfaces (like streets or driveways) then flows into storm drains around town.
From Downtown Invermere, stormwater runs across pavement, into drains, and eventually empties straight into Lake Windermere through a culvert. Elsewhere in Invermere, stormwater is directed into drywells, where it seeps back into the ground through perforated well walls. In both cases, the water does not get treated before it re-enters the environment!
Water that enters the lake directly without being treated can be a source of pollution for our river. Stormwater can carry pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, oil, chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, and garbage if it picks up these contaminants before it flows out to the lake.
Why can’t we just treat it?
Although it sounds like a good idea, attempting to treat stormwater to remove pollutants could be disastrous for Invermere’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. Stormwater appears in high volumes at irregular intervals. If Invermere’s storm sewers were diverted to the treatment plant, it would be swamped every time stormwater arrived, compromising treatment of raw sewage coming from the sanitary sewer system. This could be worse for the environment than the current arrangement of storm and sanitary sewers.
Re-directing the culvert flow to seep into the ground via other drywells in town along 4th Avenue is a possible future solution. Soil can act as a natural “filter” for certain pollutants, helping “clean” the water before it returns to the ecosystem (see video below).
But until that type of project happens, it is up to us to help make sure pollutants aren’t entering our waterways! To help protect Lake Windermere and our river as we enter the fall season when rain is more frequent, please remember to never pour anything into a storm drain that you wouldn’t want to swim, drink, or fish in!
- Check all product labels before using or disposing, and make sure they end up at the right location
- Try to opt for non-toxic or natural cleaning alternatives, as opposed to abrasive cleaners like strong acids or bases
- Avoid washing paints and solvents into stormwater drains! Always wash these into pipes that are connected to the sanitary sewer system, so that it can get treated before being released into the environment!
- Pick up after your pets! Animal waste can contribute E. coli bacteria to the water, which may cause sickness in people – especially if people are swimming or drinking the water!
I hope that this BC Rivers Day, you get a chance to appreciate the lakes and rivers we are so lucky to have in this area, and to think of more ways that you can help steward our water resources!
If you would like to support the work of the Lake Windermere Ambassadors, you can join us as a member, volunteer, or donate online!