For those of us in the US who are working under NPDES permits and various local regulations, it’s sometimes useful to take a look at how other countries are coping with similar water-quality problems.
For example, have you dealt with public education and outreach as part of your Phase II permit? Did you find it an onerous part of your job? Were you able to gauge the response to the messages you were sending? Here’s a little perspective in a news article from Chennai, India, where local officials and private environmental groups are also trying to stop people from dumping items into storm drains and channels.
In many parts of India, keeping the waterways clear is critical for flood control during the monsoon season; the article mentions publicly funded efforts to enlarge and desilt some channels ahead of the event. But water quality is also a huge problem, and one that, as was the case here, is slower to be dealt with. As in the US, there are penalties for businesses that dispose of waste in the storm drains, but a more insidious problem seems to be individuals who dispose of garbage in the waterways, including items like plastic bags (sound familiar?). Some stores are voluntarily limiting the use of disposable bags, charging customers for them, or distributing reusable cloth shopping bags. Bans are being considered, as they have been in several US cities.
The article is a reminder of how closely interdependent are water-quality and municipal solid waste efforts. The concept of “source segregation”—separating biodegradable waste like kitchen scraps from nondegradable items and disposing of each appropriately—is slowly catching on in Chennai, although some blame the government for not doing enough to encourage it. According to the article, “The state of water bodies is worsening due to dumping of garbage, and the State government should no longer engage in half-hearted measures in implementing proper solid waste management practices…. Residents are of the view that protection of natural resources can become a reality only if the State Government implements foolproof measures on garbage collection and disposal.”
A catalyzing event in the US was the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River. It wasn’t the first or even the largest fire to occur on the polluted waterway, but many people cite it as a spur to the environmental movement in the US. Chennai might be ready for a Cuyahoga of its own.