Keep it clean: Volunteer stencil project sends clear message

Friends volunteers raise awareness about stormwater pollution

Stenciled message next to a catchbasin in Richmond

A spray paint can and stencil are proving to be powerful tools in the Friends campaign to keep pollutants out of our streams and rivers. Volunteers are helping us get a simple message printed near storm drains and curbside grates throughout the Winooski Basin. “DUMP NO WASTE. DRAINS TO RIVER” is a constant reminder that any trash, debris, and pollutants that go into these black holes flow directly into local waterways. That’s right. The rain and snowmelt that scrub pet waste, household chemicals, leaked engine oil, trash, and winter sand from our paved streets, driveways and parking lots does not get treated at a wastewater facility.

Stormdrain stenciling campaigns are used successfully throughout the country to raise awareness about this and encourage people to take simple steps to reduce the potential pollutants that are now getting carried away. Here are a few to remember if you live near a paved street:

  • Never dump anything into a storm drain. Toxic materials should be brought to your nearest hazardous waste collection for proper disposal.
  • Check your vehicles, lawn mowers, and other small engines for oil leaks. Keeping the oil inside the engine is better for everyone.
  • Reduce your use of household chemicals. When they are used, be sure to follow any handling and disposal directions carefully and avoid spilling or clean-up directly on an outdoor paved surface.
  • Runoff from your lawn also reaches the storm drain system and river. Limit your use of herbicides and pesticides and if you do use them, make sure to check the weather forecast to make sure
  • Limit your use of winter sand to that needed for safety. Sweep up excess whenever possible.  You can spread it thinly on a level grassy area. The grass will help filter and distribute it before it reaches a paved surface.

Volunteer teams use maps like this one that show storm lines and catch basins
The Friends of the Winooski River has coordinated several stenciling events throughout the Winooski watershed in Montpelier, Barre, and Richmond.

Here’s how it works: Volunteer teams donning safety vests use stormwater system maps to locate catch basins around a city or village. When one is located, the team preps the site using a broom and wire brush. A message stencil is laid out on the pavement and spray-painted.

Recently, we worked with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) staff and Americorps members during their volunteer Service Day in Richmond.



Spaulding High School students in Barre and volunteers in Montpelier have also helped the Friends stencil stormdrains in the past year. Through these events, the Friends are raising awareness about the issue of water pollution and the need to protect our natural resources by promoting proper waste disposal practices.

Emily Marie Ahtunan 5
Stenciling in Montpelier. Photo by Emily Marie Ahtunan

If you’re interested in coordinating a stenciling effort in your community, the Friends may be able to help. Use the form on the Contact page to connect with us for information and resources. Our stormwater page of our website has some general information on stormwater management. This stenciling guide is also a great resource.

Thank you to all of the volunteer groups that have helped us educate communities and prevent pollution from entering streams and rivers in the Winooski River watershed. We look forward to more events in the future!


Stormwater mitigation at Smilie School

Improving the water quality of Joiner Brook in Bolton

Students at the Smilie School in Bolton will learn about stormwater runoff and work with the Friends of the Winooski River to help protect nearby Joiner Brook from polluted runoff.  Stormwater runoff carries pollutants such as phosphorus, pathogens, motor oil, pesticides, and lead to streams, rivers, and lakes.  These pollutants degrade water quality, negatively impacting animals and plants and can make human contact with the water unpleasant or a health risk.  Like the Smilie students, everyone can help reduce polluted stormwater runoff and make our waterways cleaner and healthier.   Homeowners can install rain barrels, reduce pesticide and herbicide use or replace lawn with trees and shrubs that will absorb water.  Schools and businesses can manage runoff from their roofs and parking lots so it soaks into the ground or is filtered before it runs into the closest stormdrain.  You can learn more about stormwater on our website.

Smilie Memorial Elementary School in Bolton, VT

This summer, the Friends will begin construction of three stormwater mitigation practices at the Smilie School with the goal to improve the water quality of Joiner Brook, a tributary of the Winooski River.  The 3+ acre property includes impervious roof surfaces, a gravel parking lot, and a gravel access road –all of which generate stormwater runoff.

Stormwater runoff carries pollutants such as phosphorus, pathogens, motor oil, pesticides, and lead to streams, rivers, and lakes. Phosphorus is of particular concern since elevated phosphorus in Lake Champlain has resulted in algal blooms that threaten the health of other aquatic organisms and are sometimes toxic to humans and other animals. Urban stormwater runoff carries more phosphorus per acre of land than agricultural runoff.

The practices for Smilie School include a rain garden at the school’s entrance, a stormwater bio-retention area designed to capture stormwater from the school’s roof, and renovation of the river access road to limit vehicular traffic, reduce compaction, and encourage infiltration of runoff. The old road will be replaced with a footpath that will extend a small existing nature trail at the school, thereby improving outdoor education and recreation opportunities.  Each of these practices will filter the water by soaking it into the ground, reducing stormwater runoff volume, sediment and associated phosphorus, as well as other pollutants.  This project will engage students and school community members in an educational activity related to the practices. Students and/or parents will plant the raingarden and bioretention areas while learning about the function and purpose of these practices and ways to reduce stormwater runoff at home.

Implementation of the proposed practices is expected reduce stormwater volume by 11,845 cubic feet and will improve water quality by reducing the annual sediment and phosphorus load by an estimated 75 and 0.2 pounds respectively.

The Smilie School stormwater project was initiated in 2015 when the Bolton Conservation Commissioners approached the Friends of the Winooski River to partner to mitigate stormwater runoff impacts at the school. Clogged stormwater drains and sediment deposits in stormwater conveying ditches near Joiner Brook attested to the sediment load generated by the school parcel. In the spring and summer of 2016, the Friends worked with the school and Stone Environmental to develop a stormwater master plan for the school campus. The resulting plan, funded by the Lake Champlain Basin Program, recommended several practices to stem runoff volume and/or improve runoff water quality.

Satellite image of Smile School from the stormwater masterplan

Last fall the Friends worked with Smilie School staff to choose three of the practices recommended in the stormwater master plan to bring to reality. Complete construction designs for the chosen practices were developed by Stone Environmental and approved of by the school district’s facilities manager and the Smilie School principal.

Smilie School also plans to pursue a fourth practice, relocation of the trash dumpsters away from a stormwater drain thus avoiding contributing “dumpster juice” to Joiner Brook via the stormdrain system.