Rain, rain, down the drain

While much of the western United States suffers under drought conditions, Keizer does well, sitting atop the 300-square mile Troutdale Aquifer that stretches from southwest Washington to Eugene. 

Water issues go further than aquifers and droughts, it also includes the quality of our shared water resources.

Federal, state and city regulations address the protections and restorations of water that sustains the  community, economy and vitality through the Clean Water Act. Keizer has three water bodies to protect: Claggett Creek, Labish Ditch and the Willamette River. Most of what enters the waterways is rain. When it rains, it pours, and washes what is on our streets and sidewalks gutters into the stormwater system that ends up in our streams and rivers.

Keizer’s Public Works Department oversees this entire system, including adherence to rules that regulate what goes into the city’s storm drains. The Stormwater Division operates and maintains 125 miles of stormwater pipes and hundreds of other stormwater assets such as catch basins, manholes, vegetated stormwater facilities and outfalls. The Environmental Division develops and implements plans and programs to ensure compliance with water quality regulations.

The Stormwater Division’s goal is to provide a storm drainage system that is safe, clean and effective; that requires daily inspections, repairs and cleanings to reduce local flooding, prevent pollution from entering our waterways and prevent infrastructure failure.

“Stormwater is water from storm events like rainfall or any type of precipitation that falls outside of your home,” explained Keare Blaylock, Keizer’s Environmental and Technical Division Manager.

Water inside of a home is different—it goes to the sewer, whereas the water outside your home goes to the storm drains. In urban areas, impervious surfaces such as pavement and roofs prevent rain from naturally soaking into the ground.

Stormwater is connected to the water that we play in, that we want to fish in, that we want to recreate by. I think everybody can and should recognize the role they play in and be part of the solution.

Keare Blaylock
Environmental and Technical Division Manager, CITY OF KEIZER

“It’s important to make the distinction because water from inside a home goes to a treatment plant and it’s treated before it’s released to the waterways. Water that falls outside of your home goes to a storm drain or a street drain, and that goes directly to the river without treatment.That is kind of the big picture of storm water,” said Blaylock.

Stormwater management has changed over the past 50 years. Historically,  the goal was to get rid of stormwater as fast as possible, but that had negative impacts such as eroding stream banks, which adds silt to a waterway, endangering habitat for the fish and mammals that live in it.

“The mindset now, with regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the goal is to infiltrate and treat stormwater where it lands and reduce the potential for pollution to mitigate the impacts to the stream,” said Blaylock.

The pipes that eventually carry stormwater to the Willamette River are separate from the city’s sewer system, which is maintained by the City of Salem. The pipes range in size from as narrow as 4 inches up to 36 inches.

The more than 100 miles of stormwater drainage pipes are under every neighborhood in Keizer, except for private communities such as Inland Shores and McNary Estates, which have their own private stormwater systems.

A Keizer homeowner is billed a 5% license fee for stormwater and one equivalent service unit (ESU) which translates to about $16 every other month. ESU is a configuration of development or impervious surface estimated to contribute an amount of runoff to a city’s stormwater system which is approximately equal to that created by the average developed single family residence within the City. 

One ESU is equal to 3,000 square feet of impervious surface area.

Expansive parking lots and large roofs on houses and buildings impede rainwater from going to the ultimate location: into the ground. Every commercial development is required to have a stormwater system, some in which collected water is injected directly into the ground.

Those funds are used exclusively for stormwater projects which include inspections of the pipes, drains and catch basins. There are more than 2,000 catch basins in Keizer and each needs to be cleaned out by the operations employees, using the large vacuum truck.

Those catch basins catch a lot of litter. “You find lots of soda drinkers,” said Jenny Ammon,

the city’s Environmental Education Coordinator. ‘You have cigarettes, lots and lots of cigarettes. Masks have been a big component of litter in our Trashy Tuesday public litter clean-ups. There’s a lot of alcohol containers that do not make it into the recycling bin, along with plastic bags.  It goes out there to the storm drains.”

The public can do their part in assuring only natural run-off gets into the stormwater system. Most of the stormwater drains in the city are marked with medallions explaining that the drain leads directly to our local waterways (“Only rain down the drain”). Division employees along with volunteers placed those medallions on many drains over recent years.

Ammon hopes to visit local classrooms soon to educate young people about the connection between stormwater and rivers and streams, as well as what they can do to help keep litter out of the stormwater system. COVID put an end to in-class presentations for the time being.

Education is not only for the young. Adults can do their part by washing their vehicles on the lawn rather than in the driveway, reducing or eliminating chemicals applied to yards and gardens. This time of year homeowners can help to keep storm drains clear of fallen leaves.

“People should remember, this is their community. Just leave it better,” said Blaylock. “What we do on land affects our waterways. Stormwater is connected to the water that we play in, that we want to fish in, that we want to recreate by. I think everybody can and should recognize the role they play in and be part of the solution.”