Each time it rains or snow melts, that water runs off rooftops, down sidewalks, and through streets until it reaches a storm drain. This water is known as stormwater. As it moves through urban areas, it picks up pollution from roofs, industrial areas, and roadways. Some of the predominant and most dangerous pollutants in stormwater are PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Once that stormwater is down a drain, the contaminated water eventually drains into the Spokane River. Some of that contaminated water flows into storage tanks – along with our wastewater – to be treated before it enters the river. However, the system is under capacity and every time it rains half an inch or more the tanks overflow, spilling raw sewage and contaminated stormwater directly into the river.
The Lands Council has an innovative solution that will help protect our Spokane River: storm gardens. With storm gardens, stormwater avoids the storm drains entirely by permeating through the garden’s soil. This alleviates the need to store stormwater with wastewater, thus reducing the chances of storage tanks overflowing into the river. Our gardens are some of the first in the nation to use biochar, an organic technology for treating stormwater. Biochar, a waste product from agriculture, is a highly porous form of activated carbon and when added to soil absorbs and binds to pollutants, keeping them out of our river and aquifer. Already The Lands Council has built 3 storm gardens in the Shadle neighborhood, landscaping with native plants that have the added benefit of providing natural pollination corridors. To make a serious impact, however, we need to do more. Rather than waiting for a multi-million/billion dollar retrofit of our water system, The Lands Council can be a part of the solution by building more storm gardens in our region.
In addition to our storm gardens, The Lands Council is working on a new, highly innovative program that will use oyster mushrooms to break down PCBs in highly contaminated areas. In the fall of 2015 we will begin growing oyster mushroom mycellium and work with the City of Spokane to test its efficacy at reducing harmful PCBs before they enter our rivers or aquifer.