Sustainable Schools: clean water education in Whatcom County

December 6, 2017

Stormwater runoff is Washington’s biggest source of pollution.  Stormwater can contain bacteria, trash, oil, toxic chemicals, viruses, dirt, and many other pollutants; collectively called non-point source pollution. When stormwater enters a storm drain, it does not get filtered but is piped to the nearest waterway, carrying with it lots of pollution.  This fall, students from three schools in Whatcom County hosted Sustainable Schools programs to learn about local water quality issues and to take action.

At Shuksan Middle School in Bellingham, all 6th grade science students learned about pollution in stormwater and modeled how pollution moves through a watershed from land to the water through Sustainable Schools Stormwater Education. In the week(s) prior to our visit, , students were introduced to waterquality issues and how humans can impact water quality aboard the Snow Goose. The Sustainable Schools team then completed a follow-up lesson at school focusing on their local watershed: Squalicum Creek. Students then put their learning into action.  In an effort to decrease non-point source pollution, AVID students installed a dog bag dispenser station at the entrance to their soccer field to encourage pet-owners to pick up dog poop when utilizing the field and assembled new dog owner kits to educate City of Bellingham residents about the importance of picking up after their dog. The kits were then given to the Whatcom Humane Society to hand out alongside adopted dogs.

All 9th grade science Students at Blaine High School completed a five-day Young Water Stewards program. The students learned about how human’s everyday activities can contribute to non-point source pollution in the watershed. They learned how this pollution is then carried into Cain Creek (their nearby waterway) through stormwater runoff. The students tested water quality analyzed their results and compared it to historic data. After discussing how Best Management Practices can be implemented to reduce pollution, students  completed a stewardship project where they removed three truckloads of invasive species and approximately 30 pounds of trash!,  Twelve trees were then planted and three yards of mulch was spread in an effort to reduce the amount of suspended sediments polluting the water.
Nooksack Valley High School, part of the Everson School District, asked Sustainable Schools to offer the Young Water Stewards Program as an elective. Once a week for eight weeks, students are participating in the program which is highlighting rural land-uses that are contributing to non-point source pollution and utilizing the Sumas River as the case study. Students are half way through the program and will complete their learning by designing and implementing an action project in January that will help mitigate the pollutant they determine to be the biggest contribution to non-point source pollution in the Sumas River.
Students from all three schools are doing their part to help clean up our water. You can too! Keeping non-point source pollution out of our water is easy:
  • Scoop the poop. Pick up pet waste daily or often to keep bacteria, viruses, and excess nutrients out of the water.
  • Wash your car at an Industrial car wash. Soap contains surfactants and chemicals, if washing at home, that soapy water will find its way into the nearby water. Industrial car washes send the used water to a waste water treatment plant that can properly remove chemicals.
  • Don’t drip and drive. Ensure your car is not leaking, and if it is take it to a mechanic to stop the leak. Annually, Americans drip over 180 million gallons of oil much of which finds its way into our water!
  • Avoid fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. These run off your lawn, garden, roof and driveway the next time it rains.
  • The presence of herbicides and pesticides in the water can result in death of aquatic plants and animals including salmon.
  • When excess nutrients (any fertilizer added to the ecosystem causes an “overload”) enters the water, it promotes algae growth, algae have a short life and within the same season will bloom and then die. During the decaying process, dissolved oxygen is consumed resulting in extremely low dissolved oxygen levels creating “dead zones.”
If you are associated with a school and would like to host Sustainable Schools to teach about water or waste, contact us at