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Volunteer project to help keep river clean

The Cities of Lewiston and Auburn will team up to host a storm drain stenciling event on Sunday, June 28 at 1 p.m. Volunteers will meet at Festival Plaza in Auburn on the banks of the Androscoggin River for a brief clean water discussion before splitting up to conduct the stenciling in the Whitney Street neighborhood of Auburn and off Webster and Pleasant Streets in Lewiston. Volunteer participants will include 25 members of Girl Scout troops 1524, 2013, and 2012 and their parents. The rain date for the event is July 12.

The stencils will be used to mark the street near city drainage structures. Storm drain stenciling will help educate the public about the fact that storm drains in the area drain directly into local bodies of water. Storm drains do not lead to treatment plants, and any pollution or trash carried from rain events or snowmelt will eventually flow untreated into the Androscoggin River, Lake Auburn, or other smaller streams in either community. The illegal dumping of waste or trash into the drainage system can create pollution and clog drainage systems, creating backups, nuisance flooding, and requiring expensive cleaning operations.

Over the last 10 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has regulated stormwater discharges under the Clean Water Act. The act obligates thirty municipalities in Maine, including the Androscoggin River communities of Auburn, Lewiston, Lisbon, and Sabattus, to develop a stormwater management program and implement a number of pollution control measures. Two of these measures require public education on stormwater impacts and public participation in reduction efforts. The stenciling project is part of this program.

The public education campaign also provides lawn care tips for residents, such as “Mow High and Let the Clippings Lie” instead of using fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, which are carried into the storm drain system by lawn runoff. Taller grass helps maintain healthy soil, which absorbs more water and reduces polluted runoff from lawns. Grass clippings are a natural fertilizer. Using rainwater to water lawns instead of public water, which contains chlorine, is another way to reduce the use of chemicals and to protect the quality of local water bodies.

Recent EPA and Maine DEP audits in Lewiston and Auburn will likely require both communities to implement additional clean water efforts and expenditures. Public engagement efforts in pollution prevention, such as environmentally sensitive lawn care, can greatly assist the municipalities in keeping down compliance costs to taxpayers.

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