Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Coming Soon to a Computer Monitor Near You! Exciting News and Free Stuff!

Here in the Environmental Services Division, talking to people about stormwater isn’t just a hobby of ours: it’s required!  We have a permit through the DNR that requires us to talk to people in the city about stormwater pollution and how to reduce it (although we would probably do it even without the permit).  Like every other organization, we’re constantly looking for new ways to bring our information to you…hence this blog.  Starting in February, we have a new way of communicating with you about environmental topics that affect you.  We’re starting a bimonthly webinar series. 

Webinars are like seminars you
can attend in your slippers.
If you’re not familiar with webinars, they are similar to a seminar.  A webinar is a seminar/presentation that is held over the internet.  Someone (that’s us) presents on a topic and participants (that’s you) watch and listen live.  We will have guest speakers who are experts or can offer different insights on our topics.  Some of the topics we plan to cover include: winter salt application, pharmaceutical disposal, the importance of trees in stormwater management, rain gardens, etc.  Every webinar will also be recorded and posted to our website upon completion so you can watch them later if you can’t make the live presentation.  If you have any suggestions for topics, let us know at 

To register for a webinar, visit our website at here.  You can click the link that is listed under each upcoming webinar; more will be posted throughout the year.  You will have to fill out a short form, and then you’ll receive an email confirmation.  On the day of the webinar, you can click the link in your email (or in one of the reminder emails) and voila! you’re attending our webinar.  There is also a tab at the top of this blog where you’ll find more webinar information and the registration links.

In addition to learning more about water and the environment, for every webinar you attend live (if you are a City of Superior resident) between now and June 1st, you will receive one entry into a drawing for a free rain barrel.  The drawing will take place in the beginning of June. 

For more information, please visit our website (listed above) or give us a call at 715-394-0392.  We look forward to your participation! 

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter road conditions

Good morning Superior!  It warmed up a little bit today....not that you'd normally call 10 degrees warm, but after the last few days, it feels like a heat wave.  There's a lot more snow on the ground today, which can lead to some dangerous walking and driving conditions.  Remember, when it's really cold outside, NaCl does not melt snow and ice on the roads.  For more information on salt's impacts on the environment, see our past blog post about winter salt use here
For road conditions in Wisconsin and Minnesota, check out:

Wisconsin 511

Minnesota 511

Please drive safely and remember to clear your sidewalks so you can walk safely too!

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Basement Flooding

Although it's not really the season for it, there was an article on the Great Lakes Echo website (obviously a favorite over here) yesterday about flooding entitled “Urban flooding a regional dilemma”.  The article covers a study conducted in Chicago that looks at the problem of basement flooding region-wide.  They found that every city they contacted reported flooding (Center for Neighborhood Technology, 2012).  According to the article, some people will experience up to 40 household floods in their lives (Great Lakes Echo, 2013).
Many people don’t seek help for basement flooding because they don’t want anyone to know.  They’re afraid it will hurt their property values.  However, there are programs in place to help people with home flooding.  In Superior, we have the Stormwater Flood Control Program (SFCP).  The purpose of the SFCP is to reduce inflow and infiltration entering the sanitary and combined sewer system through private plumbing.  It is a voluntary program for homeowners who have experienced basement flooding and who live in a single-family, owner-occupied residential home in the City of Superior.  Homeowners can request information from our website here.  The program sets out to assist homeowners with stormwater-related issues, identify factors that contribute to flooding potential, give suggestions to prevent flooding, clarify the responsibilities of the homeowner and the City, and reduce incidences of basement flooding in owner-occupied, single-family homes.  For more information, contact Curt Sander-Berg and 715-394-0392 ext. 1002.

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Monday, January 21, 2013

WhadayaKnow? How can we improve water quality in the Great Lakes?

Great Lakes Echo is a great website for news about the Great Lakes basin.  They also put together a lot of great informational videos.  Their "WhadayaKnow" series is especially interesting because they ask random people on the street questions about the Great Lakes.  The video below shows people's responses to the question "How can we improve water quality in the Great Lakes?".  Everyone they spoke to had good ideas to improve water quality, many of which are implemented in one way or another.  However, I didn't hear any of the people they stopped mention stormwater pollution.  This is surprising, since stormwater is the largest contributor of water quality pollution to urban waterways in the United States.  Many people probably don't realize that most stormwater drains go straight to waterways without being treated.  Our goal on the Superior Stormwater blog is to make more people aware of this and give you more information on reducing stormwater pollution and water pollution in general.  We hope that after reading our blog, you have a lot of ideas for how to improve water quality by reducing stormwater pollution.  Thanks for reading!

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Friday, January 18, 2013

Invasive Species App

Photo from Wisconsin DNR

The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network has launched an app for smartphone users to identify and report invasive species (over 170) with their smartphones.  The app gathers information about how many species are in the area and their density, as well as collects user pictures.  This is a great way to get involved and help scientists learn more about the spread of invasive species.  For more information, see the Great Lakes Echo article here and the MISIN website here.

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Externalities, Plus A Bit More

You probably have heard of the word “external” but what about “externality”? An externality occurs when a decision causes costs or benefits to individuals or groups other than the person making the decision.  The decision-maker does not bear all the costs or reap all the gains from his or her action.  The term is used in economics and an example of a decision could be water or air pollution.  More laws limit how much pollution (point source) can occur but we know there is mercury in fish because of burning coal at power plants hundreds of miles away.  Pollution in Superior does partly arise from actions in Superior but also from other places via air travel and deposited via rain or other ways. In our society, we have decisions to make every day.  Decisions of an individual or a business can influence their neighbors, the city, or beyond.  Some influences can be beneficial, such as environmental clean-ups or research where more people benefit from the efforts of a person, group, or business.  A Rotary Club or 4-H club might do a clean-up on Wisconsin Point and others would then be able to enjoy the cleaner shoreline.  An externality of a person not picking up their pet’s waste could be that the dog waste is washed down a stormdrain after a rain or as snow melts and it lowers the water quality on the other end of the pipe and leads to closed beaches or algae blooms. 
I’ve always liked food webs and recognizing how extensive a food web can be.  It’s more than a chain as most species can consume different prey.  NOAA has a good Lake Superior Food Web  I like that the drawing is not generic of fish eats fish but shows species right here in Lake Superior.  Before you go to the link can you create a small web of life in Lake Superior?  The little guys we can barely see, such as phytoplankton and zooplankton, are vitally important.  We don’t have the bigger fish without the little fish.  The poster also has the inclusion of several aquatic invasive species which are here in Lake Superior.  Are aquatic invasive species an externality occurring in society?   I listened to a seminar the other day that referred to aquatic invasive species as genetic pollution.  Are we creating this scary problem?  What can we do to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species? What about invasive species on land?
When putting a new building in what was once a field, more pervious surfaces is added to an area and will lead to run-off.  For ways to reduce run-off go to  Efforts can be made to reduce the run-off but if none are done then more water will be flowing off the new paved and impervious surface.  Good planning can help reduce the effects on places beyond the property.  Putting in a rain garden can be part of the solution to handle the water and also bring a beneficial externality of watching butterflies.  
Society has benefited from some production of medicines to help us fight off an illness.  However, negative externalities arise such as with the amount of extra pharmaceuticals that remain to be disposed of and that the medicines can contaminate waterways as they go right through a treatment plant and some are having effects mimicking hormones.  Plasticizers are another source for the chemicals entering waterways and having health effects on aquatic life.  With proper disposal there is a cost – to the Police Departments, incinerator, and awareness campaigns to promote proper disposal.   Can you think of any externalities – good or bad - on other topics? There are many local and global situations of decisions and behaviors having additional effects on other people and places. 
Written by Wendy Grethen

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Plastic Pollution

I saw this video last week on plastic pollution in Lake Erie.  It's interesting because most people would probably not realize that some common products can be so harmful.  We all know that plastic water bottles are a big problem in the environmental world, but facewash?  Even though this is in Lake Erie, not Superior, it's good information that is applicable universally.  Check it out below:
Lake Erie Plastic Pollution Study - WICU12/WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather and Events

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Friday, January 11, 2013

Keep on Learning - Local opportunities

This week I attend a couple workshops.  I’ll always be a lifelong learner and I especially like to learn about science, environmental protection, and how to be a better educator.  One of the workshops was an all-day training by Fortin Consulting on Winter Parking Lot and Sidewalk Maintenance held at the Natural Resources Research Institute and organized by the Regional Stormwater Protection Team.  Over twenty people attended who plow and do parking lot clearing or road salting for a municipality, university, or apartments.  We learned a lot at the workshop on salts, removal of snow/ice, and how to apply effectively.  In the past, sand was the most used material on parking lots and roads to increase traction.  As salt, typically NaCl, is to applied to paved areas and steps in winter.  When spring comes there is a surge of melting with the salt going down the storm drains and into waterways.  A growing concern is that Chloride levels are becoming higher in waterways.  In fact, the consultant is funded through the Minnesota Pollution Agency to attempt to reduce salt use before the state may need to begin creating laws to limit use as the chloride levels rise.  Other presenters at that workshop were Rich Axler from NRRI and he showed data from and definitely pulses of higher conductivity in Duluth streams during the early spring or anytime temperatures became higher and melting occurred.  Another guest was a salt distributor but had experience working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and he offered ways to reduce salt by using it as a brine solution and apply the salt solution as a drip before the bad weather may begin.  Everyone did recommend to remove as much snow and ice through mechanical means - plowing, brushing, etc.  The airport in Grand Rapids, MN was mentioned that they don’t use any salt on their sidewalks – they have a sweeper that does the job.  I linked the Fortin video “Improved Winter Maintenance: Good Choices for Clean Water to the city of Superior website and it’s being shown on Superior Community Television.  I recommend homeowners stop in and watch it at    
The other workshop I attended was on Aquatic Invasive Species.  It’s part of an educator series coordinated by Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth. The Science Institute for Educators 2012-2013: The Story After the Storm includes nine workshops which began in the fall and will go through April.  The topic on Tuesday was the 4th workshop in the series.  At a workshop the first hour is spent doing activities teaching science concepts or issues.  The word “activity” is right because we often are moving in the classroom.  On Tuesday, we did a musical chairs activity representing the effect that ruffe would have on the walleye in an area.  The second half of each training has been a talk by an expert in the field.  There are 5 more of the workshops to go.  The one later this month is Post-Flood Nutrients in Lake Superior and the St. Louis River Estuary.  If you are an educator and would like to participate in these free programs contact the Great Lakes Aquarium.  The Great Lakes Aquarium also has several educator kits with many activities to aid in teaching.  The use of the kits is at no cost.  Go to www. for more information.    

-Written by Wendy Grethen

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Household Products Can Dirty the Environment

Have you ever read the labels of the products you use at your home?  Many products say “Danger” or “Warning” or “Caution”.  They can be harmful to humans through different kinds of exposure.  While these products, such as pesticides, paints, and certain types of cleaners make your home look good, they can be dangerous to human and environmental health through different types of exposure.
The EPA  defines  “household hazardous waste” as leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable or reactive ingredients.   These items should not be disposed of with regular household garbage.  The Superior Municipal Landfill bans hazardous waste.  Chemicals from hazardous waste can leach out of the landfill and into groundwater supplies.  You also should not dump liquid hazardous waste down drains in your home or storm drains.  Superior residents can bring household hazardous wastes to the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) Household Hazardous Waste Facility.  WLSSD also has a Project Reuse Center where you can pick up leftovers from other residents’ projects that they’ve dropped off at WLSSD.  This is a great way to reduce waste and save money!
In addition to correct disposal of household hazardous waste, more and more environmentally friendly products come onto the market every day.  For example, there are many widely available “green cleaning” brands (Method, Seventh Generation, etc).  Even traditional cleaning product manufacturers are creating brands with fewer harsh chemicals.  Another option for cleaning products is to use common alternatives like vinegar and lemon juice to clean your home (see a guide here).
While it would be impossible to limit all hazardous waste from your home, swapping out toxic products with made from non-toxic materials can keep your family and the environment healthier.
City of Superior Disposal Information
EPA Household Hazardous Waste

Directions to the WLSSD Household Hazardous Waste Facility:

View Larger Map

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Friday, January 4, 2013

With the dawn of the New Year, there are 2012 “wrap ups” of all kinds of things: the best movies, the craziest fads, and last but not least, the finalization of data collected throughout the year.  In the Great Lakes region, we’re seeing a lot of news about record low water levels in the lakes.  Lake Michigan and Huron had the lowest December levels on record (Detroit News 2012).  The other lakes weren’t too far from their all-time lows either.  There was also an article in the Duluth News Tribune on New Year’s Eve telling the story of Northland homeowners whose wells have run dry. 
It seems difficult to imagine water shortages with the world’s largest (by surface area) freshwater lake right outside our doors.  However, as the hottest year on record in the United States, 2012 gave the region a drought that even a deluge of rain couldn’t stop.  As we continue on into 2013, we can make the resolution to counteract the drought by conserving water.  Previous posts have divulged some tips about protecting water from pollution, but here are a few ideas for using less in your home.
1.       Fix leaks!  The first step to saving water is to fix leaks in faucets, toilets, appliances, etc.  Any water coming out that you’re not using is money straight down the drain.
2.       Don’t flush things that can be thrown away like Kleenex.  If you flush every single time you use a tissue, each tissue is taking around 5 gallons down with it.
3.       Only run appliances (washer, dishwasher) when they are full.  A dishwasher will use the same amount of water for 3 plates as for 30.
4.       Don’t run water continuously when you could fill the sink or a bowl instead.  For example, when you are rinsing fruit or vegetables, put them in a bowl of water and then dump the water out rather than running the faucet over them.
5.       Don’t run water continuously when you could turn it off.  The best example of this is when you are brushing your teeth.  In between rinses while you are doing the actual brushing, turn the faucet off. 
6.       Keep a pitcher or glass of water in the refrigerator or use ice cubes to cool drinks.  If you prefer colder drinking water, this will eliminate the water wasted by running the faucet while waiting for the water to get cool.
7.       Take shorter showers.  If you can, turn off the water while you lather your hair and incorporate your face washing into the shower.
8.       Rather than dumping water that has been sitting in a glass or bowl down the drain, water plants with it. 
9.       When you replace showerheads, faucets, and appliances, purchase water efficient models.  There are inexpensive low-flow showerheads and a variety of appliances with the Watersense label. 
10.   Capture rain from your roof and use it to water your lawn or garden with a rain barrel.  This reduces stormwater runoff and the amount of treated water you’re using.
There are many, many more tips for conserving and reusing water.  We need to be mindful of our water use even if we have plenty of water right now.  For more tips, please visit the links below:

Alliance for Water Efficiency

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Protect Drinking Water- Recycle Oil

Each year in the U.S., millions of gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed.  Improper disposal can result in contamination of lakes, rivers, and groundwater supplies.  The oil from one oil change can pollute one million gallons of drinking water.  Aquatic life doesn’t do well in the oil mix either.  It’s great if people are able to take on doing their own oil changes on their vehicles.  They can save a lot of money doing so.  The final step of the home oil change should be to disposal of the oil properly.  In Superior, the Municipal Landfill on Moccasin Mike Road accepts the used oil and filters at no cost.  You would need to bring the oil in a clean container or use the container the oil came in.  Places where oil changes are done (that’s Wal-Mart, Benna Ford and the assorted shops including Valvoline) as well as O’Reilly auto parts stores accept it.
Oil never wears out.  It just needs to be cleaned. The recycled oil is cleaned up and made into lubricating oils that are as good as new, non-recycled motor oil.  Some used oil is processed and burned as heat or to generate electricity for homes, schools and businesses.  Como Oil & Lube in Duluth collects oil from the collection locations in the Twin Ports.  About two million gallons are collected per year in our area with about half coming from Superior.  It’s great that the places doing the oil changes and the collection centers (such as the Superior Landfill or WLSSD in Duluth) have a pickup service agreement with Como Oil and Lube to help the oil go on to a new life.  For all the home oil-changers, it’s up to you to get the used oil to a collection center.  Please do not empty it in a storm drain because most of those drains go directly to a local stream, bay or Lake Superior.  You also shouldn’t bury the oil in your yard as that also can contaminate water.  Just putting the oil in a sealed container in the trash is also illegal.  As of January 1, 2011, used oil filters, absorbents, and containers are banned from landfills per Wisconsin Administrative Code. Used waste oil was banned from disposal into licensed landfills prior to that.
With doing research for this blog, I also learned that the U.S. Postal Service and National Park Service used re-refined oil in their vehicle fleets.  Re-refining is energy efficient and about 2.5 quarts of re-refined, high-quality, lubricating oil can be produced from one gallon of used oil.   It takes 42 gallons of crude oil to make the 2.5 quarts of re-refined lubricating oil.
Listed below are more resources associated with used oil recycling.  Please be sure to fix any oil leaks in your vehicle promptly.  It just makes sense.  Cars also go through tires and batteries – guess what?  These are also not allowed in landfills and need to be disposed of properly as well.  You can check out the laws pertaining to disposal of other items at the website:
For more information on motor oil recycling, go to

-Written by Wendy Grethen