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askHRgreen.org Hits the Streets with “Write as Rain” Campaign

Posted on April 18, 2017 by | Comments Off

rainworks_hashtag

Launched this week (just in time for Earth Day) on sidewalks, streetscapes and thoroughfares throughout Hampton Roads, the motivational campaign will reveal a bevy of good-to-know “green” messages that become visible when wet.  

With the approval of local municipalities, askHRgreen.org committee members blanketed the region using custom-made stencils and an eco-friendly rain-resistant spray to adhere their messages to sidewalks in locations where residents gather. When it becomes wet, the surface around the message darkens while the stenciled area stays dry and light. The messages carry such sayings as: Only Rain Down the Storm Drain; No Wipes in Our Pipes; Your Morning Shower Starts with Tap Water; and Cigarette Butts are Litter, Too. There are 12 different messages in all!

Why “Write as Rain?”
The goal of the campaign is to inspire people to think about our Hampton Roads environment in ways they haven’t before. What’s more unexpected than a magically appearing message written with rain?

Grab your umbrella and head outside to enjoy the next rainy day in Hampton Roads and look for messages in Chesapeake, Hampton, Isle of Wight County, James City County, Newport News, Portsmouth, Smithfield, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, York County, and more locations. Find a message near you using our interactive map below and check back often as new locations are added.

Whenever you find one of our hidden messages, don’t forget to snap a photo to share with us on social media #askHRgreen.  

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Community events, Don't litter!, Fats, oils and grease disposal, Going Green, HR Green campaign updates, Keeping storm drains free, Reduce reuse and recycle, Waterways

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Have you heard about SWIFT?

Posted on February 8, 2017 by | Comments Off

If I were to ask you what areas of the United States are facing water crises, your thoughts would probably veer toward drought-prone southern California or Texas. New Orleans might come to mind, with its flooding issues and precarious below-sea-level vantage point. But we’re ok in Hampton Roads! Nothing to worry about in our water-rich neck of the woods; we’re surrounded by bridges and tunnels and rivers galore! And we’re definitely not like New Orleans with a “too much water” problem, right? 

Sadly, Hampton Roads IS facing a water crisis- it’s just invisible. The Potomac aquifer, eastern Virginia’s largest water supply, is being overused and is shrinking beneath our feet. Groundwater-using industries are facing increasing regulations and new water-using industries are being told not to move to the region. The compacting aquifer is also contributing to land subsidence, which in turn is increasing the area’s susceptibility to the negative impacts of sea level rise. Hampton Roads is the second largest population at risk for the negative impacts of sea level rise, right behind infamous New Orleans. It’s not a pretty picture. 

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

So what do we do? How do we combat such an extensive, multi-faceted issue? Do we build flood walls? Elevate our homes on stilts? Move? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and there are many individuals and organizations working on the problem. HRSD is one of those organizations, and it’s tackling the situation head-on with an initiative that not only addresses the shrinking Potomac aquifer and land subsidence, but one that will help achieve Chesapeake Bay restoration goals and support our economy at the same time.

HRSD currently discharges approximately 150 million gallons of highly treated water into the waterways of Hampton Roads each day. Rather than continuing to waste this valuable resource, the Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) would take the water that would otherwise be discharged into the Elizabeth, James or York rivers and purify it through additional advanced water treatment to produce drinking-quality water. The purified water would then be treated to match the existing groundwater chemistry and added to the Potomac Aquifer. Hydraulic modeling suggests that this could reduce the effects of sea level rise by up to 25 percent and positively impact nearly the entire Potomac aquifer, as far north as Maryland and south beyond the North Carolina border.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

SWIFT would also benefit the Chesapeake Bay. Replenishing groundwater with HRSD’s purified water would effectively eliminate more than 90 percent of HRSD’s discharge to local waters – reducing the total amount of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen reaching the Bay. And the homes and industries in eastern Virginia that currently remove approximately 155 million gallons of groundwater from the Potomac aquifer every day would have a renewable source of groundwater to rely upon rather than an increasingly restricted one. 

Extensive environmental and economic benefits aside, why is HRSD pursuing SWIFT in the first place?  Its mission is to treat wastewater effectively, not to produce drinking-quality water and add it to the ground. Increasing regulations play a part. HRSD is continuously making process-level upgrades to its thirteen wastewater treatment plants to remove more and more nutrients and other contaminants from the highly treated water it discharges. By leaping forward under the assumption that the increasingly stringent regulations will continue, the next logical step would be to purify its water to the point that it’s clean enough to drink. Subsequently dumping such a valuable resource back into surface waters that don’t need it when technology exists to use it in a way that is regionally beneficial…well that just doesn’t make sense.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

Secondly, HRSD is pursuing SWIFT because it recognizes that it’s part of the big picture. Land subsidence, shrinking groundwater supplies and rising seas are problems that impact ALL Hampton Roads’ residents, not just a select few. They are not problems that will go away if they’re ignored, nor are they problems with easy solutions. HRSD’s mission may be treating wastewater, but its vision is that future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean. SWIFT boldly meets that vision by protecting the Chesapeake Bay,  securing future groundwater supplies, addressing land subsidence and helping the economy. Those are things I think we can all stand behind.

Blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator at HRSD.

 

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Using water wisely, Waterways

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Getting My Feet Wet – The International Coastal Cleanup

Posted on November 29, 2016 by | Comments Off

TWayne Joneshe City of Suffolk, for the first time, took part in the International Coastal Cleanup organized by Ocean Conservancy.  In Virginia this initiative is coordinated locally through Clean Virginia Waterways based at Longwood University.  The initiative is designed to raise awareness about and reduce ocean marine debris.  However, it’s more than just a traditional cleanup.  It is an effort to understand what type of debris and how much is getting into our waterways.  To understand it, a survey must be taken to find out how many tires, plastic bottles and kitchen sinks etc. are found within the area surveyed.  This makes this initiative more complicated than your traditional cleanup.  As Litter Control Coordinator for the city and veteran Clean the Bay Day Captain I knew that conducting a debris survey of the downtown section of the Nansemond River shoreline in kayaks and canoes would be challenging.  Not challenging because it’s mentally complicated, but practically, as it’s not easy cleaning out the wetlands, reaching for plastic bottles, completing a survey whilst trying not to drift or drop something. 

So being our first year, and as a seasoned kayaker, I knew it would be literally a juggling act and so I wanted to “get my feet wet” before we really promoted it and recruited volunteers.  I registered our cleanup with Clean Virginia Waterways, but I kept it exclusive to people I knew with the goal of getting feedback so that next year when we roll it out to the public it would run smoothly and give us a good foundation to build on year-on-year.  As an experienced volunteer coordinator it’s essential that an event runs smoothly and is well-organized.  Nothing frustrates a person donating their time more than a poorly organized and executed event. 

Debris CollectedSo what did we learn from our 3 hour pilot effort on a beautiful Saturday morning in October?  To do this in canoes and kayaks it takes two people.  One person has the litter grabbers and one person with the pencil and clipboard to record the data.  I had originally thought that we would do the cleanup and then do the survey by emptying the bags and recording all the debris using the app developed by Ocean Conservancy.  However, it quickly became apparent by the rate of bags we were filling that this method would be extremely time consuming and, in addition, I realized there was a lot of larger items we had to leave behind, but needed to include in the survey.  The largest of these items was an ice refrigerator like the ones you find outside any gas station.  I suspect this came from the gas station washed out by Hurricane Mathew the week before and then marooned in the wetlands.

David KeelingHaving the right equipment is also important.  I purchased four sets of six feet long litter grabbers and tested them out during this cleanup and they are great at reaching into the wetlands and grabbing plastic bottles and other types of consumer packaging.  I would highly recommend these for this type of a cleanup.  It’s also important to have a larger canoe or small boat to go between teams offloading the collected debris, providing supplies and dropping the debris at the collection point.      

I’m thankful for having done a test run before actively recruiting volunteers next year.  It’s a fun and an educational experience as well as rewarding to be part of an international effort to collect data and contribute to a global picture of what type of debris is finding its way into our oceans.  With quantitative data, governments, businesses, non-profits, individuals etc. can begin to address the problem and work towards solutions and hopefully we will see a downward trend in marine debris. 

One of the highlights for me was meeting a guy named Bill Farrell.  Bill was enjoying a morning stroll by the river as we were in the middle of the cleanup.  He shouted out to me “thanks for doing this, I have a kayak, how can I get involved?” so I told him I’m the Litter Control Coordinator in Public Works.  Monday morning when I was back in the office he called me and gave me his details and said his wife would like to help as well.  I never expected to be recruiting for next year so soon but I’m looking forward to it and making this an annual Suffolk event which will be fun and educational for all. 

For more information about Clean Virginia Waterways and the International Coastal Cleanup http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/

So what did we find?

Items Found

Number of Each Item Found

Plastic Bottles

227

Aluminum Cans

114

Glass Bottles

63

Styrofoam Cups / Food containers

58

Plastic Bags

18

Tires

4

Wooden Planks

4

Yard Signs

3

Oil Cartons

3

Traffic Cones

2

Buoy

2

Cooler

2

Ice Refrigerator

1

House Insulation

1

Tool Box

1

Trash Can Lid inscribed “Please Don’t Litter”

1

Guest blog contributed by Wayne Jones, Litter Control Coordinator with the City of Suffolk.

Posted in: Community events, Don't litter!, Keeping storm drains free, Waterways

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Don’t Let Your Neighborhood Go to the Dogs!

Posted on November 4, 2016 by | Comments Off

askHRgreen-PetWasteStation-HomepageSlideDon’t let your neighborhood go to the dogs! askHRgreen.org offers free pet waste stations through a regional grant program. If your Hampton Roads neighborhood/HOA/community association is ready to make scooping the poop a priority, then you’re invited to apply. Pet waste stations encourage residents to pick up after their pets by making it easy and convenient to do so. They are also one small thing a community can do to help keep our local waterways clean.

Scooping the poop is not only important for a clean neighborhood, it’s important for our local waterways. When pet waste is not picked up, it becomes a major source of pollution in our water. Rainwater carries nitrogen and bacteria from pet waste into our storm drains and directly into our rivers, lakes, and streams. This excess nitrogen and bacteria transform the water into a cloudy, green, foul-smelling mess that lacks oxygen and becomes an aquatic dead zone. The same pollution is responsible for beach closures, fishing restrictions and warnings on eating local seafood. Installing a pet waste station is one easy way to combat water pollution in your community.

The grant program is open to any neighborhood, community group, or property management company with the ability to install and maintain the pet waste station. To apply online for a free pet waste station, click here. Supplies are limited, so apply today!

The askHRgreen.org pet waste station grant program is made possible, in part, by funds generated from the sale of Chesapeake Bay license plates. Learn more at http://dls.virginia.gov/commissions/cbr.htm

Posted in: Outdoor tips, Pets, Waterways

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Hurricane Matthew, Rising Tides, and Regional Resiliency

Posted on November 3, 2016 by | Comments Off

Photo 2

Disgruntled flooring after the waters receded.

Anyone who has done major home renovations recently is likely aware of the concept of “floating floors.” DIY-ers can quickly and easily transform a space by clicking together planks of laminate, vinyl or wood over their existing floors and revel in the beauty they’ve created. These floors are great, theoretically, and overall I was pleased with the outcome when I installed them in my own home in 2012. There is, however, a very significant downside to floating floors: they literally float. So when Hurricane Matthew floods the interior of your house with a foot of water and you’re trying to gather essentials in order to evacuate your neighborhood, you have to dodge planks of laminate as they float merrily past you down the hallway.

Photo 1

The morning after Hurricane Matthew & my flooded Corolla Eco.

I live in the Windsor Woods area of Virginia Beach. My neighbors and I earned the depressing distinction of being the worst hit street in the state of Virginia and it’s still evident weeks after the floodwaters receded. Personal belongings are stored in metal cargo containers in people’s yards as they remove and replace large chunks of their homes. Most of the “trash” has been hauled away, but large “No Scavenging” and “Residents Only” signs still welcome folks to our street. We share construction tips and power tools and sympathetic ears and wonder whether we’re better off rebuilding our homes on stilts. Will another flood wash away all of our hard work?

Photo 3

We will rebuild!

It’s tempting to want to take out our anger over our recent misfortune on inaccurate weathermen or unprepared municipalities, but the reality is that our world is changing. Sea levels have risen 14 inches since 1930- placing more and more developed areas at risk for recurrent flooding. The sinking of our area’s land is exacerbated by the overuse of the Potomac Aquifer, which is experiencing such significant pressure decreases that it is shrinking and compacting beneath us. These trends show no sign of abating and thus, as we put our homes back together we must ask ourselves, “What can we do?”

Support Infrastructure Investment

The infrastructure beneath our feet is the unsung hero of our region’s resiliency. Support your city or county’s investment in infrastructure maintenance and improvement. And, be a storm drain steward yourself! It might be easy to rake grass clippings and leaves into storm drains, but these debris cause clogs and cleaning up after those is NOT easy. 

Reduce Impervious Surfaces and Install Rain Barrels

Increased development and urban sprawl are contributing to the hardening of our shorelines. Do your part to reverse this trend by planting shrubs and tall grasses on your property and opting for gravel or pervious pavement when constructing driveways and walkways. The more hard surfaces you have on your property, the less rainwater can be soaked-up during a storm, and the more water that will flood our streets. Installing rain barrels at your downspouts is also a great way to prevent extra water from flowing toward storm drains during rain events (and is a great source of water for your plants during dry periods).

Support the Region’s Sustainability Research Initiatives

Hampton Roads is the second largest population at risk of the effects of sea level rise and scientists and engineers in our region are tackling the problem head on. For example, the newly formed Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency is facilitating research and education about sea level rise and developing adaptive planning for coastal communities. HRSD’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) is addressing land subsidence by proposing to replenish the Potomac Aquifer with up to 120 million gallons of purified water a day, which hydraulic modeling suggests may reduce the effects of sea level rise by up to 25 percent.

Watching your floors float away and your neighborhood struggle to rebuild after a natural disaster is disheartening. There are very few bright sides to the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew; hopefully, acknowledgement of our region’s vulnerabilities and a push toward positive change will be one of them.

Guest blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator with HRSD.

Posted in: Keeping storm drains free, Waterways

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