TEWKSBURY — On a warm Tuesday evening, Arthur Markos and Chester Cheng are armed with spray bottles of water, waiting for the next opportunity to jump into action. As part of an outreach effort by the Department of Public Works, Markos and Cheng are making the rounds at the Farmers Market, Earth Day and other community events.
The pair are working hard to educate the public about stormwater management and the damage that careless runoff can have on the town.
“People just don’t realize that the catch basins and sewers drain right into our ponds, rivers and marshes,” said Markos, Project Manager at the Tewksbury DPW.
Using a fun “enviroscape,” complete with cars, dogs, and other figures, Cheng drops a few chocolate ice cream sprinkles on the plastic roadways and sprays them down with water.
As he explains to an interested youngster, an animated Cheng says, “See, this is dog waste. Watch all the places the runoff flows to.”
The diorama is effective and illustrates the point beautifully.
“When people don’t dispose of pet waste properly, all of our waterways suffer,” said Cheng.
In fact, the DPW has found whole sewers where people have been dropping their bags of pet waste right in.
“People think the sewers get treated,” said Markos. “These basins are for stormwater runoff only.”
Recent efforts to rehabilitate Long Pond are a good example of the effects of polluted stormwater runoff on local bodies of water. The pond was closed for a period of time due to high levels of E. coli and cyanobacteria.
“People need to be aware of the lawn chemicals they use, wash their cars away from drains, and dispose of oil properly,” said Markos.
The rain gardens planted around Long Pond are an example of ways to catch and filter stormwater runoff before it gets to the pond. The gardens, along with other mitigation efforts, have been effective and the pond was reopened ahead of schedule.
This entire campaign is due to a new MS-4 permit requirement from the Commonwealth for all cities and towns.
“Tewksbury is in great shape,” said Markos, explaining that the town is ahead of many other communities through best practices it already has in place.
“Our GIS mapping is complete,” said Cheng, “and we are now working on outfall testing, making sure our municipal buildings are in compliance, and stepping up the outreach.”
MS-4 is the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System program under the guise of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as part of a larger National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program designed to mitigate water quality impacts from point sources in communities.
Markos said there are bylaws and fines that the town can use, but the preference is to educate people.
“It is cheaper to educate people now than clean up an area later,” he said.
Markos and Cheng hope to work with the Tewksbury Public Schools to educate students with the goal of sharing information with parents and creating lifelong awareness of human impact on the environment. They are also working with all other departments in town and reaching out to businesses and construction sites.
For more information, contact the Engineering Department at 978-640-4440.