Multiplying Impact

Partnerships help an innovative water-quality education program reach diverse age groups and influence behaviors in Warsaw, Ind.
Multiplying Impact
Greg Weber, operator/maintenance specialist, samples water to test for stormwater pollutants in the Tippecanoe River.

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Working a booth at a local lakes festival, Theresa Sailor learned that about 80 percent of people didn’t know where water flowing down storm drains ended up.

“Many don’t realize that when they wash out their latex paintbrushes or put grass clippings in the street, all that water goes untreated, and most of it goes right into our waterways — Pike Lake, Center Lake, Winona Lake and the Tippecanoe River,” says Sailor, stormwater coordinator for the City of Warsaw, Ind.

Her job is to change that, and generally to make people more aware of water-quality issues and the importance of pollution prevention. That’s especially important in and around Warsaw, a northern Indiana city of 12,500 in an area rich with water resources.

Broad Reach

Sailor works out of the city wastewater treatment department and does her job with the help of that department’s staff. “Wastewater personnel are our partners in everything we do, including water sampling,” she says. “We monitor monthly samples from rivers and creeks coming into our corporate boundaries and exiting our boundaries to help determine our local impact on water quality due to stormwater runoff. We test for phosphorus, chlorides, pH, conductivity, DO, temperature and ammonium.”

Partnerships with community organizations greatly extend the education program’s reach. “We work closely with the community resources we have,” says Sailor. “Grace College does a lot of water-quality education in the local schools, and they also do water-quality monitoring in the community.”

She also partners with the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District, and with the county Solid Waste Management District, supporting publicity for its recycling depot and for events like household hazardous waste collections and electronics recycling dropoffs. Those partnerships lend substantial leverage to reach community members with messages that have lasting impact.

Fish At School

Warsaw is a sponsor of the Grace College Lake in the Classroom program, in which four- through six-grade classes from local schools receive a 30-gallon aquarium stocked with native fish, like bluegills, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and catfish. Once a week a Grace College student visits the class to talk about water quality and how pollution affects aquatic life.

“The kids take care of the fish,” says Sailor. “They feed them every day. It connects them to something alive that they can see. The college drops off the tanks and sets them up and takes care of cleaning them every month. That way they’re not a burden to the teachers.”

Learning On Water

Warsaw also partners with the Soil and Water Conservation District’s Water Drop raft program for ninth graders. Students take a two-hour trip in rafts launched at the Grassy Creek inlet to Tippecanoe Lake. As they float and paddle the lake, they use simple chemical kits to test the water for phosphorus and dissolved oxygen. Later, on pontoon boats, they measure water clarity with Secchi disks.

“It’s a beautiful lake and a great experience for the kids,” says Sailor. “A lot of them have never been out on a raft and certainly have never thought about water quality and things like invasive species of plants and fish. It’s a great opportunity for them to touch things and experience how neat it is to be outside and doing something different.”

Festive Education

Sailor and the Warsaw team also take part in and sponsor the annual Northern Indiana Lake Festival, put on in early June by Grace College and its Kosciusko Lakes and Streams community-based research center.

The festival drew 4,000 visitors in 2013. Several water-quality organizations had exhibits. Visitors received a card containing one question about water quality from each of these groups. They were challenged to visit each booth, get the answers and turn in completed cards for a free water bottle.

The Year In Art

Another Grace College/Kosciusko Lakes and Streams initiative is a student art contest around a water-quality theme. The contest is open to anyone in the county in grades four through 12. There are divisions for grades four through six, seven through eight, nine through 10, and 11 through 12.

“Kids can use any medium they want,” says Sailor. “They use watercolor, colored pencils, charcoal and others.” A selection committee chooses the winners, whose works are compiled in a calendar.

Businesses and organizations (including the City of Warsaw) sponsor calendar pages, each of which includes a pollution prevention tip. The artworks are also displayed at Grace College and at the Warsaw City Hall. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to draw something that’s meaningful,” says Sailor. “Kids really just want to be acknowledged and have their art submitted. They really enjoy that.”

Sailor uses some of the artworks on educational door hangers, distributed in areas of town where street workers or others have reported evidence of illicit discharges, such as paint stains at storm sewer grates. The door hangers are customized to let the residents know exactly where their streets’ stormwater goes.

“It’s not that people intentionally pollute,” Sailor says. “The problem is that they don’t realize where their stormwater goes. In the next two years, we would like to reach the point where every single resident knows where their particular street storm drain goes. Then they’ll be engaged on a personal level.”

At The Fair

Brian Davison, Warsaw utility manager, notes that the city does its own exhibit at the county fair. Wastewater plant operators sign up to staff the booth at hours of their choosing. They hand out information on stormwater and wastewater treatment and other environmental concerns.

“We’ve never had an issue getting enough people to staff the booth,” says Davison. “We usually pass out popcorn to draw people’s attention, so they’ll stop and talk to us. The wastewater information is pretty basic — about not dumping grease down the drain, how to dispose of medications properly. In the past we’ve shown videos from inspections of our sewer lines. We had video of a line that was plugged with grease, and a video of clean line so people could see it flowing.”

Sailor is grateful for the help, seeing education as a team effort. “We all participate in the stormwater program,” she says. “It wouldn’t happen without everybody here. One person alone cannot do this job.”   


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