From rock burritos to rain barrels, students in the San Dieguito Union High School District are coming up with creative, real-world solutions to improve water quality in the cities of Encinitas and Solana Beach.
Through the BCK Program’s SWPPP internship, which stands for Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program, students are working with industry professionals to study the problem of runoff pollution leaving their school sites and prevent some of the negative impacts it can have on the surrounding environment.
“This program has been phenomenal due to the fact that I get to work with some really amazing students,” said Patti Diaz, SWPP instructor and managing director.
This year SWPPP interns at Earl Warren Middle School penned a resolution to ban plastic netting on straw waddles used for erosion control in Solana Beach and Diegueno Middle School students presented a plan for straw waddles to the city of Encinitas to prevent runoff from the Paul Ecke Central campus—“Both cities listened so that was a fantastic win for us,” Diaz said.
The 24 SWPPP interns at San Dieguito High School Academy have produced a lot of results this year and presented their accomplishments to the school board at its June 6 meeting.
The SDA SWPPP performs visual inspections at their assigned storm drains on campus every month. Freshman Eilidh Laurie said when it rains, they collect samples at all five storm drains and send them to certified labs for testing, then compare the test results to EPA benchmarks to identify which drains need the most attention.
“We research best management practices we can to do reduce the pollution that is leaving our campus,” Eilidh said.
This year the interns found a lot of TSS in the parking lot drain, due to trash left behind by students. TSS, which stands for Total Suspended Solids, is “a scientific way of saying dirt” according to freshman Ava Barbano, who has been a SWPP intern for three years since she was a student at El Camino Creek Elementary School.
Ava said their best management practice this year for that drain was to add more recycling bins and trashcans to the area as many students won’t go out of their way to throw away trash unless a bin is nearby. The interns wrote a letter to Edco Waste and Recycling Services and requested eight bins, placing them in high-traffic areas of campus, “They filled up fast,” Ava said.
The SDA field drain was also in really bad shape at the start of the year with a lot of TSS and fertilizer from the softball field resulting in excess nitrates and nitrites present in the water. The interns organized a work party to clean up the drain and re-designed it to prevent pollutants from entering—they created a “rock burrito” to place in the inlet of the drain to slow the flow of water and hold back leaves, trash and other debris.
According to senior Amber Tse, a third-year intern, the school’s roof drain was relatively clean and runoff could be used for landscape irrigation but so much of it ended up going to waste. To combat that, they installed two systems of rain barrels to capture and re-use water and also ordered roof spikes to keep birds and bird feces off the roof to reduce contaminants in the water.
The interns focused on educational outreach for their fellow students by designing 30 posters that they put up around the school, painted mural tiles that will be attached to the walls above the rain barrels and created and sold stickers with their message: “You are the filter.”
In order to make a larger community impact, SWPPP interns worked with Herman Cook Volkswagen to set up free auto inspections for SDA students, staff and community to make sure that their cars are not adding to the oil problem. Senior Jenna Weinhofer stated that one drop of oil pollutes one million drops of water and there is an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil dripped onto California roadways each year.
“What sets this program apart is that we accomplish real-world improvements at our school and within the community,” said Weinhofer, who just completed her second year as an intern. “As SWPPP interns we are the next generation of stormwater advocates. Whether or not we end up with a career in this industry, we will always be powerful voices for keeping our waterways clean.”
Next year BCK Programs hopes to have SWPPP internships at SDA along with three middle schools in the district: Oak Crest, Diegueño and Earl Warren Middle School. Learn more about the SWPPP internship program at swpppinternship.com.