delware environmental institute

Medallions mark environmentally sensitive catch basins

Medallions mark environmentally sensitive catch basins

While taking a stroll through the University of Delaware, you may have come across one of hundreds -- 844, in fact -- of small metal medallions located on the numerous catch basins on campus and wondered what they are doing there.

Andrew Homsey, an associate policy scientist at the UD Institute for Public Administration's Water Resources Agency (WRA), said the medallions, which are purchased through the Department of Environmental Health and Safety's (EHS) stormwater program, serve as a way to track the locations of all of the catch basins in the area, as there were previously issues with accuracy as to where they were. The purchase of the medallions was made in order to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements.

Knowing this information is important, Homsey said, so that UD officials can respond effectively to potential spills around campus and where possible contamination will travel once it enters the pipe system and how long it will take to get there.

Homsey said EHS staff originally selected the metal medallions for the reason that they lend themselves well to the University's high aesthetic standards and will prove to be more permanent than other industry alternatives. The WRA works with the EHS to coordinate the mapping, design the catch basin tagging and provide assistance with equipment.

Jennifer Pyle, environmental health and safety specialist at EHS, currently hosts and directs this project with support from the WRA and students. The EHS is a part of the Office of Campus and Public Safety.

In addition, UD is involved with the city of Newark in applying for a permit for stormwater discharge administered through the Environmental Protection Agency. To get a permit and become compliant with clean-water regulations, accurate stormwater infrastructure data are necessary, he said.

Homsey said it is important for people in the UD community to be aware of how interconnected the city's drainage and water systems are, as anything that goes on the ground or in the street is likely to end up in a local river.

“It is important to protect all of our waters, starting at the source,” he said. “Not to do so, is dangerous, and can lead to impaired health of the environment, ecosystems, and humans who rely on that water. The economic costs of cleanup and water treatment far outweigh the cost and trouble of keeping the 'bad stuff' out of the water in the first place.”

Sophomore Levi Sikes, an English major, and senior Shane Palkovitz, a human services and English double major, both in the UD Honors Program, are the two student workers who are using GPS data and GIS software to locate and keep track of where the medallions have been installed. Palkovitz said the duo is able to tag 30 to 40 storm drains with medallions on a good day.

“Many people over a long time have put a lot of effort into protecting our watersheds,” Palkovitz said. “We are fortunate to be involved.”

Sikes said working on the project has been an enjoyable and positive experience for him.

“I love having a job that is outside and takes me all over campus,” he said. “I have been surprised by how much I enjoy this job. You have to be able to find the joy in such seemingly ordinary things -- even marking storm drains.”

To learn more about stormwater, and related activities and opportunities across campus, visit the Watershed Action Team for Ecological Restoration (WATER) website. This site highlights stormwater issues, people and internship opportunities across several departments and units at the University.

Article by Jon Bleiweis