Haine Middle School concept gets township approval

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Some environmentally conscious fifth-graders from Seneca Valley are partnering with Cranberry to make residents aware of the connection between storm drains and clean drinking water.

Allison Stebbins' gifted-support science class at Haine Middle School proposed painting signs using stencils onto residential storm drains to ensure people know that whatever they dump there will enter the watershed.

“It really came out of their own inquiries and their own interests to educate people that whatever goes into the storm drains is not going to the water treatment plant — it's going straight to Brush Creek,” Stebbins said.

The students presented their proposal to Cranberry's Board of Supervisors last week and got unanimous approval to move forward.

Cranberry's water supply comes from the Ohio River, which is fed by the Beaver River and Brush Creek. Tim Schutzman, Cranberry's waterworks coordinator, said although Cranberry's watersheds have always passed inspections, it's important to raise awareness.

“Some people don't realize that the storm sewers are separate versus sanitary sewers,” Schutzman said. “If you put oil or grease in the storm sewer system, it's going directly into Brush Creek or Coal Run. It does not get filtered out later.”

The focus of Stebbins' class is on water contamination and conservation, she said. The storm-drain stenciling project is the next step in extending classroom learning to the community.

The students were inspired to act by the Jan. 9 chemical spill at Freedom Industries, a coal-processing plant in Charleston, W.Va., which contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 people, and the exceptional drought in California.

“There are several places, like West Virginia, that didn't do something like that and ended up having their drinking water contaminated,” said Zach Garcia, 11, of Cranberry.

“I can definitely imagine that happening to us as a community, and that is what we're trying to prevent,” said Sean Holby, 11, of Cranberry.

The township will pick up the cost for the stenciling, which should be minimal, Schutzman said.

Zach and Sean said they're most excited to see how people will react to their signs once they're on the storm drains.

“I'd like to see how people would take this once they saw the signs and if they would stop dumping contaminants into our storm drains and potentially polluting our drinking water,” Sean said.

Stebbins hopes to start painting in late spring. If all goes well, she'd like to continue the project with future classes.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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