Art work helps education, reduce pollution

by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Loicano
Air University Public Affairs

8/15/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- In an effort to comply with Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act guidelines, Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex members may soon notice several colorful art pieces around base.

The artwork, designed by the 42nd Civil Engineer Squadron and sixth-graders from Maxwell Elementary/Middle School, serves several purposes, including satisfying public education and outreach and community involvement requirements established by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which the EPA uses to govern storm water pollution.

Currently, Maxwell and Gunter operate under a permit by the EPA and Alabama Department of Environmental Management that regulates storm water runoff, allowing the base to directly contribute storm water into the Alabama River.

"Storm water pollution comes from water running off buildings, oil and fuel on pavement, silt and sediment from construction sites, pet waste, pesticides, herbicides and even lawn fertilizer - all these things are considered pollutants," explained Trent Hill, 42nd CES storm water program manager. "Even things you wouldn't think of as normal pollutants, such as sediment and silt, can have an effect on the river wildlife. It changes the habitat and course of the river."

Installation storm water runoff empties directly into a storm drain and makes its way to a larger water body and, eventually, the Alabama River. Storm water runoff is not pre-treated at a waste water treatment plant, which is why Hill stresses it is important for base residents and personnel to be aware of potential pollutants and consequences.

"Just a little bit accumulates and eventually makes a large contribution to polluted water," he said. "The more pollutants you get in there the harder it is to clean up once it's in the ecosystem, and it has an effect on the wildlife."

In addition to the potential long-term environmental impacts from polluted storm water runoff is the cost of treating water for public and base use.

"We buy our water from the city of Montgomery; 60 percent of our drinking and potable water comes from the Tallapoosa River. When water becomes polluted, it is that much more effort to clean it up at the processing plant and our prices for water go up," Hill said.

The 42nd CES is required by EPA mandate to provide state environmental agencies a yearly report verifying the base is in compliance with environmental standards. Besides public education and involvement, base environmental program managers are responsible for monitoring runoff control measures at construction sites; ensuring shops and organizations around base comply with environmental guidelines; implementing pollution prevention and housekeeping actions, such as keeping curbs and gutters clean; and inspecting post-construction sites to make sure landscaping and green spaces are installed. The earth can soak up water more easily if landscaped and grassed.

The Alabama River is not currently on what the EPA calls the "impaired waterway" list, but if it was, it could mean more oversight on behalf of the EPA in the form of increased monitoring and restrictions on organizations that contribute storm water runoff to public waterways.

Base residents and personnel can help reduce storm water pollutants, Hill said, by following simple steps such as using manufacturer's directions when it comes to applying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, as well as for disposing products and cleaning up after pets.

"Putting out too much product isn't always helpful for both results and for environmental side effects," he said.

Beginning with the base school, the 4-foot tall, 5-foot long art pieces will be on display for the next three years in high-traffic areas, such as the fitness centers, commissaries and base exchange around Maxwell and Gunter.