Lesson 1: An introduction to stormwater and its cycle

By Marla Barhoum | Jun 05, 2013

The following is the first of three mini lesson plans the Beacon will run about rain gardens and other Low Impact Development projects residents can install in their yards to help protect our local streams and Puget Sound.

City staff created the lessons as part of a watershed-based Stormwater Strategies Plan developed in partnership with the state Department of Ecology, city of Everett, Paine Field Airport, Mukilteo School District and the Snohomish Conservation District.

In addition to the lessons, a free workshop on rain gardens is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, at Mukilteo City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.

For more information, go to www.ci.mukilteo.wa.us. -Ed.

Water is an important part of our world and local community. We can better understand water by knowing how it circulates around our earth and how we can keep it clean.

The journey that water takes as it travels from the ground to the sky and back is called the water cycle and is powered by the sun’s energy.

Water evaporates, turns into gas and travels into the air; while gravity pulls water back down to earth as precipitation.

In the clouds, water becomes condensation, where water transforms from gas back to liquid and falls as rain, snow, sleet, hail or dew and evaporates all over again.

Once water returns to earth, it takes different paths. Water can fall back into bodies of water, or can soak back into the earth.

It is here that groundwater can freely move in underground rivers; while other water will collect and be stored in spaces known as an aquifer.

This water will later rejoin rivers and streams; winding back to the ocean where the cycle starts again.

When the rain falls on hard surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads and parking lots, it will flow quickly across the ground and pavement, picking up pollutants and finding its way to the nearest storm drains.

This polluted runoff travels through a system of underground pipes that lead to nearby creeks or streams.

Motor oil, gasoline, antifreeze, chemicals and pesticides for lawn and garden care and pet droppings are washed from lawns, driveways, parking lots and city streets. These toxins end up floating directly into our local waters.

It is estimated that more than one-half of the pollution in America’s waterways come from polluted runoff.

How can Mukilteo citizens help and be part of the solution?

One way that the water cycle can be restored is through building rain gardens. In the upcoming articles, you will learn about:

• How rain gardens work and their importance to keeping our local waters clean;

• How local Mukilteo students are supporting this effort through environmental stewardship and service-learning;

• Costs to build and maintain a rain garden;

• How to get your neighborhood excited about installing rain gardens;

• Locations of working rain garden sites in Mukilteo; and

• Local experts and conservation programs that can help you create your own rain garden.

What can Mukilteans do?

What can we do to keep the water around Mukilteo clean and free from pollutants? Protecting water is everyone’s responsibility; we all need clean water.

• Wash your car on the lawn or at a commercial car wash

• Pick up pet waste; scoop, bag and throw it in the trash

• Sweep dirt into the lawn, pick up debris and put it in the trash

• Minimize the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in your yard and garden. Always apply according to the instructions on the package and take any excess chemicals to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility in Everett, which is operated by Snohomish County.

Family activities

• A great way to remember something is to teach it to someone else. Share the story of the water cycle with someone else. You can design your own chart, write a story or create lyrics to a song.

• Measure and report daily rainfall in your backyard. Ask to borrow a measuring cup from your parents and place it outside. Make a chart and calculate how much rain falls each day for an entire week. What did you observe? Were you surprised by the results? Why or why not?

• Learn more about Mukilteo’s watersheds. Go online and find the “Streams, Wetlands and Watersheds” map of Mukilteo at http://www.ci.mukilteo.wa.us and answer the following questions:

• Which creeks/streams are closest to your home?

• Where does the rain from your neighborhood drain? Which gulches, streams and larger bodies of water are affected by polluted runoff from your own neighborhood?

• Where does water move in your neighborhood? Observe stormwater (with a parent/guardian) as it travels from your yard to the nearest storm drain. How far away is the drain? Do you see any pollutants along the way? Can you see how easy it is for pollutants to travel to the same drain?

• Do you see something out of the ordinary? Do you see any foaming or petroleum oil sheens near the storm drainage site? If you see a problem, please let someone know. Please call Mukilteo’s Illicit Discharge Hotline at (425)263-8088 and they will come out and check the specific area.

• Draw a diagram of how water travels from your home to the storm drain and to nearby waterways. Write a journal entry about what you saw and what was most interesting to you.

Local resources

For more information on preventing polluted runoff and how to help, please visit these websites:

• Puget Sound Starts Here: www.pugetsoundstartshere.org

• City of Mukilteo Storm/Surface Water Program: www.ci.mukilteo.wa.us/Page.asp?NavID=170

• Snohomish Conservation District: www.betterground.org/

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