The Colorado River runs through the heart of the Grand Valley, and in many ways, it is the lifeblood of the community. Without the river, there wouldn’t be any peaches in Palisade, no farms in Fruita, no reason to build a park at Las Colonias in Grand Junction. Everyone who lives here has crossed over the river hundreds of times, perhaps commenting on the water level, the wildlife that inhabits the river corridor, or the people who recreate in the water.
Keeping the water clean, safe and healthy is a priority for the entire Grand Valley, which is why the Mesa County Public Works Department created the Stormwater Division in April when the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority dissolved.
“The biggest thing we want people to know is that the water that enters storm drains isn’t treated or filtered; it goes directly into the Colorado River,” said Carrie Gudorf, Regulatory Programs Manager for the Mesa County Stormwater Division.
Water and pollutants can enter storm drains in a variety of ways, including run-off from washing a car, run-off from over-fertilizing a lawn or fertilizing when conditions aren’t ideal, leaking oil from a vehicle, allowing pets to do their business without cleaning up said business, or using chemicals on a driveway in the winter to melt the snow instead of using a shovel. Construction sites have the potential to send silt flowing into stormwater drains, and homeowners who are simply trying to tidy up their lawns may send grass clippings, dirt or leaves down the storm drain if they sweep it all to the street instead of bagging it and bringing it to the Mesa County compost facility.
Everyone can make a difference when it comes to keeping the water in our rivers and lakes clean, healthy and safe. Washing cars at a commercial car wash keeps soapy water out of storm drains. Carefully following the manufacturer’s specifications on a package of fertilizer and paying attention to the weather forecast can prevent chemicals from ending up in stormwater drains.
“When fertilizers run off our lawns and run into the storm drain, it can cause algae blooms, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the water and causes fish kill,” said Joshua Martinez, Stormwater Coordinator.
As part of its outreach efforts, staff members planned to sponsor the annual Children’s Water Festival, which is typically held in the spring for all Mesa County Valley School District #51 fifth grade students. This year, the water festival was canceled due to COVID-19, but the division was able to sponsor the Grand Valley Paddling Club’s annual River Clean-up Day on Aug. 1, which was another way to interact with community members who are equally passionate about river health.
The stormwater division gets involved with housing development sites by approving the developer’s plan to deal with runoff during construction, usually by a properly designed retention pond, and also ensures that the stormwater system is maintained and monitored throughout the life of the subdivision.
Stormwater oversight is necessary to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment, and it also protects the river and wildlife from unwanted toxins and pollutants. Although the division is concerned with illicit discharges and non-compliant activities that lead to pollutants getting washed down storm drains, its goal is not to be a heavy-handed, punitive agency that issues fees and fines, but rather, to be an educational resource for the public.
“If anyone has a question, please, give us a call,” said Martinez.
To learn more about how you can help keep local rivers and lakes clean, search for the Mesa County Public Works Stormwater Division on Youtube, where there are eight different educational videos. Or visit their website at stormwater.mesacounty.us Mesa County Stormwater Division Hotline: 970-263-7401.