County: Stormwater ponds are collection areas, not garbage bins

Pierce County’s Water Programs summer maintenance crew members get stung by yellow jackets or hornets often as they mow fields or cut brush. But the maintenance program itself gets stung, too – by unthinking people who dump yard waste and garbage in the stormwater ponds created to prevent flooding of residential areas.

“Removal of garbage and yard waste that people have dumped is an ongoing, serious issue for us,” said Tony Fantello, Water Programs maintenance manager. “Dumping in ponds plugs up pipes and water control structures, interferes with water conveyance, reduces pond capacity and attracts rodents.”

When organic materials decompose, they look and smell bad, and overload the water with oxygen-displacing nutrients. Some ponds discharge to fish-bearing creeks, which are negatively affected by the excess nutrients. The nutrients act like fertilizer for weeds, which creates the need for additional maintenance.

“The frequent need to remove illegally dumped trash diverts county staff from higher priority maintenance work that protects properties from flooding and corrects drainage problems,” Fantello said.

People can help by properly disposing of garbage, recycling acceptable materials including yard waste, and educating others about the problems created by illegal dumping. Using a mulching lawnmower or composting is an environmentally friendly way of handling organic material.

To report the presence of dumped material on county property, citizens are encouraged to call the Service Response System at (253) 798-4274.

Water Programs’ maintenance crew includes about 15 full- and part-time employees in the field. The maintenance program is responsible for nearly 350 ponds, 92 miles of levee, 29 miles of creeks and ditches, and countless acres of easements across private property.

The work involves often negative contact with neighbors. People want to know why the crew is mowing their (easement) grass or removing their fences (across easements). Water Programs is attempting to get the word out to answer those questions.

“The county has acquired easements that provide access across private property to publicly owned flood and surface water control facilities.

Citizens who install structures in these areas or use them for personal benefit risk having their structures removed during the course of seasonal maintenance activities,” Fantello said, adding that citizens are encouraged to keep easements shared by a stormwater facility clean of bushes and invasive vegetation.

But the occasional positive contact occurs also. Recently, workers returned in the morning to find a card on the seat of their mower parked near a house overnight to prevent vandalism. The card contained an invitation to use the family’s picnic table, water faucet and other facilities. The note included words of welcome and an expression of concern about heat stroke. “The morale of that crew shot right up by this small act of kindness. We love that kind of interaction with the public,” Fantello said.

The county’s river and stormwater pond maintenance program will continue through late September. Typical pond maintenance activities include vegetation management, sediment removal, access road grading and reconditioning, storm drain cleaning, fence repair, and trash control.

Levee repair is included in river maintenance as well.

Annual maintenance is necessary to protect the taxpayer’s investment in these systems and preserve their ability to function as designed. Actions taken in the summer months minimize the potential for property damage and personal injury from flooding and excess runoff during wet season storms.

To help Pierce County maintenance crews do their job and use stormwater fee money wisely, citizens are asked to report any problems observed to Pierce County Water Programs at (253) 798-2725 or the Flood Information Line at (253) 798-4274.