ORLANDO – On a very blustery day, Clary Powell wasn’t particularly concerned about either the strong winds or the cool temperatures. Standing before a group of middle school students, she seemed more interested in rain.
That was the case, despite the fact that there was no rain coming down, and not a cloud in the sky.
“The problem we face,” Powell told the students, “is whenever it rains in Orlando, this is something we need to be aware of.”
Powell made her comments at Lake Eola Park, right next to the Disney Amphitheater, and that location was chosen for a reason: close proximity to Lake Eola itself. As Powell noted, rain may have a lot of benefits for the plants growing all around us, but it can pose a challenge for the lakes that area residents have come to appreciate.
“Do you know we have around 100 lakes in Orlando,” she asked the students, who came from the nearby Lake Eola Charter School, on a mission to help prevent pollution from flowing into those lakes — Eola included.
“That’s a lot of lakes for us to enjoy,” she said, “but that’s also a lot of lakes to take care of.”
And the big problem, she added, is that when it rains in the city, it washes items out of people’s lawns and driveways into the streets – and then into storm drains. That sends the waste right into Orlando’s lakes.
“Our storm drains have no filtration systems,” said Powell, who is the public awareness specialist for the City of Orlando’s Public Works Department.
Storm drains, she noted, are the number one source for pollution in local lakes, because household chemicals, paints, leaves, fertilizers and pesticides are carried by stormwater into storm drains that flow directly into those lakes.
Those hazardous pollutants and waste can damage the water quality and kill or sicken fish and wildlife, and potentially limit recreational opportunities in the lakes, Powell noted.
That’s why the Public Works Department has launched a new public awareness campaign, marking storm drains with “No Dumping” signage as a visual reminder that storm drains are for stormwater only.
This afternoon, Powell and the Lake Eola Charter School students joined Mayor Buddy Dyer and City Commissioner Patty Sheehan on this marking project. Working as a group, the students and city officials set out to post new “Only Rain Down the Drain” stickers by storm drains that feed directly into Lake Eola.
“Volunteers are what makes this program possible,” Powell said.
It’s also a great way to teach kids about the environment, the mayor said.
“That was a pretty good science lesson, wasn’t it?” Dyer asked the students. “What do you think is the number one pollutant that goes into our drain system?”
Several students guessed correctly – household waste. What the city doesn’t need, Dyer said, is for that waste to end up in sparkling lakes like Lake Eola.
“We have beautiful lakes all over Orlando,” he said.
This effort, Dyer said, was part of Green Works Orlando, the city’s sustainability initiative to engage everyone who lives, works and visits Central Florida in the effort to “go green.”
“We’re trying to become one of the most sustainable cities in the nation,” Dyer said.
To get more city residents involved, City Hall has launched GreenWorksOrlando.com, an online forum that encourages residents to offer feedback and ideas on making the city a model for green sustainability.
In the meantime, the mayor said he wanted to help spread the word about simple steps that could be taken to improve local lakes.
“Now Commissioner Sheehan and I are going to learn how to apply the first sticker,” Dyer said.
The students were matched into six groups, each one with an adult chaperone, and they were taught how to apply the storm drain stickers.
“If anybody asks you ‘Hey, what are you doing,’ you can hand them our brochures and it explains our message,” she said.
Powell also encouraged the students to do what they can to prevent household waste from getting into storm drains to begin with.
“Every day as you go about your day, there are things we can do to prevent pollution,” such as cleaning up after pets, cleaning their driveway, and keeping waste from falling out of trash cans, she said.
To learn more about the program, call Powell at 407-246-2257.
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