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'Only rain down the storm drain'





With adhesive and labels in hand, Fort Hays State University students are on a mission to help protect the local water supply.

A project of Jean Gleichsner's soils class, 20 students set to work this month marking approximately 800 storm drains in Hays.

"This is the first year we've done it," Gleichsner said of the project. "Stacie Minson approached me about having students mark drains since it had been a number of years since the drains had been marked by the Boy Scouts. The markers from previous years are faded and, in some cases, gone."

Offered as an alternative to a lab assignment, the students also have completed a reading assignment and quiz over the importance of marking storm drains. Funding for the project was provided by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Kara Hackney, FHSU senior, marked more than 30 storm drains on campus and the surrounding neighborhood last week. Following a map, she discovered some drains buried in leaves.

"What takes the most time is finding where they're at," she said, brushing a pile of leaves from in front of a storm drain on Elm Street. "Our sign says, 'No leaves down the drain.' "

Whether it's leaves, sediment, bacteria, nitrogen or phosphorus from chemicals in fertilizer, the contents of Hays' storm drains make their way into Big Creek, then to the city of Russell's water supply and ultimately can affect water quality at Kanapolis Reservoir, said Stacie Minson, Kansas State University watershed specialist.

"All of those things contribute to whether we have a safe, clean water supply," she said. "And by marking (storm drains), we're making them visible and making us aware ... just because we can't see it, doesn't mean it doesn't go somewhere and affect us."

A deadline of Nov. 2 has been set for completion of the project.