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Oil spill heightens concern for stormwater system

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 10:26:25-05

MISSOULA — With temperatures on the rise, the sunshine has offered a welcome hiatus from the winter weather, but all the sudden melting of snow can create problems for storm drains.

“We only want rain, nothing else,” said Missoula stormwater superintendent Tracy Campbell.

According to code, anything but rain that’s sent down a storm drain is illegal, so when a bystander saw suspicious liquids trickling down the road last week, he called the Missoula Valley Water Quality District.

“Initially, when we got called out, it looked like it was just on the surface,” explained Campbell. “We were gonna come with our spill containment and clean it up, and as they were cleaning it up, they realized that it was layers of oil and grease within the snow that had apparently accumulated over time.”

Campbell told MTN News that the built up grime came after someone conducting semi-truck maintenance dumped their used auto fluids onto the road.

“From my perspective, nowadays there are a lot of people who aren't looking at the big picture, and this is another example of people not looking at the big picture of how one aspect or one action can affect a whole bunch of people,” said community member Kevin Tompkins.

A Missoula resident of five years, Tompkins, like many Missoulians, is drawn to the water.

“I find it very calming and relaxing.”

He told himself he’d try to walk more in 2022, and using the water as a backdrop makes reaching his goal a little easier.

“With the mountains and the waters, there are so many ways to be active, and there's so many ways to engage, and you can either do it physically, mentally, or spiritually,” said Tomkins. “I think Missoula, Montana and the waterways all contribute to it.”

The very reason many people love living in Missoula is threatened by singular instances like illegal dumping.

“Now in Montana and across the US, our number one source of water pollution is nonpoint source pollution, or really, stormwater runoff,” explained Campbell.

In combating this issue, Missoula creates stormwater detention areas like the Bancroft Ponds to eliminate pollutants found in our water.

“It's really great if instead of having this runoff directly from the roads going right into an inlet, we can send that to a vegetated swale or landscape area where we can get some kind of biological filtration,” said Campbell.

Detention ponds require re-development to incorporate green infrastructure, and that doesn’t happen overnight.

So, citizens are tasked with doing their part by avoiding illegal dumping, picking up dog waste, limiting fertilizers, and holding each other accountable.

“It's not so much about tattle telling, but it's about inquiring and making sure that it's right, and if it's something to do with our environment and our health as a whole, I really think we should follow up on it,” said Tompkins.

A simple, preventative act can keep waste and pollutants out of storm drains, and that keeps Missoulians like Tompkins out and about.

“It takes all of us to protect our water sources,” said Campbell.

If you see something that looks off, you should call the Missoula Valley Water Quality District at (406) 258-4890.