By Leah Traxel
When rain falls on natural soil, it gets soaked up by the land and filtered as it sinks underground.
However, on paved roads and urbanized areas surrounding most of Puget Sound, that rain, now called stormwater, picks up everything on the surface, from oil that leaks from your car to animal feces, and carries it into the Sound. Besides being disgusting, that’s bad news for the humans and animals that rely on the Sound for various aspects of their livelihood.
This polluted stormwater runoff is one of the most prevalent forms of contamination in the Sound, and lots of nearby residents don’t realize what causes it.
But a local team of dedicated students hopes to create something to change these behaviors.
One year ago, Katherine Baumann and Haley Huntington began to research water-related issues in North America. The women are students at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and part of a student-run, on-campus organization called MediaLab. The group produces public relations, visual arts and journalism work for local organizations that are looking for low-cost but professional-grade products.
With the help of MediaLab’s faculty advisor, Robert Wells, Baumann and Huntington started strategizing what issues were pertinent to the water situation in the United States and Canada, and how to promote awareness.
Last fall, fellow MediaLab member Kortney Scroger joined the team as chief videographer and editor, and the team decided to pursue creating a documentary about water issues in North America and what people can do to mitigate them.
Alicia Lawver from the Puget Sound Partnership said that the major culprits in exacerbating the pollution might not be the usual suspects.
The Puget Sound Partnership focuses conservation and restoration efforts on the Sound by promoting collaboration between community members and other organizations.
“When you think of pollution, people think of industry. We have ways to monitor and stop that,” said Lawver, who noted that there are enforceable laws and regulations to prevent environmental abuse from companies. “A lot of the pollution comes from residential neighborhoods.”
Lawver said people don’t realize how much things like not picking up after animals, using unnatural fertilizers and chemical lawn treatments, and washing cars in the street can negatively impact the runoff.
“When you multiply that by 4.5 million people around the Sound, it’s a lot of cleanup,” Lawver noted. “There’s no one place we can point and say hey, you, stop that.”
The students, all part of PLU’s School of Arts and Communication (Baumann and Scroger are majoring in it, Huntington is minoring), have investigated drastic water-related situations, including extreme drought in the southern United States, pollution and contamination in New York, Florida and Puget Sound, and severe melting in northern Canada and the Arctic Circle.
“I’m really excited to not only help increase public education, but also increase my own understanding of water issues,” said Huntington, a senior producer on the crew. “Especially those occurring in our own backyard.”
The team is only beginning their journey. In January, they traveled to the midwest to investigate issues on the Mississippi River, from St. Louis to New Orleans. They will be on the road again from late May until mid-June recording severe water situations from California to Washington, D.C. and Canada, and finally taking a close look at Puget Sound.
The movie premieres Oct. 26. Until then, you can follow the movements of the production team at www.tappedoutdoc.weebly.com, where they will post videos and journal the filming process.
For those who want to mitigate any contribution they might be making to pollution in the Sound, Lawver said it can be easy.
“We recommend people avoid polluting activities,” said Lawver. “Take your car to a commercial carwash, since washing your car in the street causes soap to go into storm drains, clean up after your pets, use natural fertilizers on your lawn, and get your car checked regularly to avoid oil leakage.”
For more information on Puget Sound, its endangerment and how you can help, visit the Puget Sound Partnership’s website at psp.wa.gov, or look at Puget Sound Starts Here, an organization dedicated to educating local residents how their actions and behaviors have a direct impact on the Sound. The organization celebrates Puget Sound Starts Here month in May, so check out their website (pugetsoundstartshere.org) to find information about local events.
When it comes down to it, the movie addresses some complex issues, but for the crew, the idea is simple. “Our natural resources are something that should be appreciated, not taken for granted or abused,” Huntington said.
Leah Traxel is a junior majoring in communications at Pacific Lutheran University. She is a member of MediaLab.