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Stencil project brings stormwater awareness to Plymouth

Joint effort between PES, PSU and Water & Sewer District

May 20, 2010
PLYMOUTH — If you've walked around Highland Street or downtown Plymouth in the past week, you've likely noticed a fairly new addition to the sewer drains lining the streets: green fish symbols, accompanied by the words "Drains to River".

Curious what these new signs mean? The Plymouth Water and Sewer District, Plymouth State University and Plymouth Elementary School are helping you find out.

The idea was originally conjured by Water and Sewer Commissioner Steve Kahl, in an effort to curtail the impact of stormwater on the rivers via the drains. Defined as a waste product by the US Environmental Protection Agency, stormwater poses a threat as it can carry containments and impervious waste to the river via the stormdrain, making it vital to mind the drains when dealing with trash and other potentially harmful materials that could be swept into the drain via heavy rains, flooding or directly thrown into the drains.

"Education is the key to reducing the impacts of stormwater, and labeling storm drains is a fairly common approach around the country," said Kahl. "Since I'm on the NH Stormwater Commission and the PVWSD commission, it occurred to me that a nice student project that would educate the public would be to stencil stormdrains in Plymouth."

Kahl went to the Plymouth select board with his idea, then with approval went to PES and PSU to gauge interest in participating. Both have taken up Kahl's proposal and are currently at work not only completing the project, but spreading the word of their efforts to the community.

The most visible mark thus far has come from the PES sixth graders who, under the guidance of Peter Helgerson, designed the stencils and began marking the town's sewer drains. On April 26, the students made a trip into downtown Plymouth, breaking up into teams to tackle the drains along Main Street and some of the connecting backroads. After a couple hours, the six teams had left their mark on well over 100 drains, their work quickly catching the attention of passersby that evening and through the following days. With hundreds more drains to label – as well as the anticipated need to re-stencil work over time – it's expected that this project will continue with the students in the future.

PSU's Mary Ann McGarry has been involved in both the Plymouth Elementary School's contributions, as well as leading the efforts of her graduate students in the Environmental Science and Policy Department. In her class, "Social Marketing in Environmental Education: Fostering Environmentally Sustainable Behavior", students Heidi Baker, Kristen Melendez and Matt Cummings developed a poster detailing the stenciling project, as well as the effects of stormwater and what can be done by residents to reduce the impact on the town's water. The students also developed a flyer detailing the importance of the project, which was to be sent home in the next Water & Sewer bill. Copies of the poster are at PES, the PSU Environmental Science and Policy Department and the Plymouth Village Water and Sewer District.

"The sixth grade students were responsible and focused on stenciling as many drains as they could on their outing, which showed their commitment to the project and their recognition of the importance of the project," noted McGarry. "The PSU graduate students commented that they liked working on an applied community project."

Varney Smith
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