Ohio University

New environmental education grant funds School’s Rain to River Program

In late April, Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs will arm volunteers with cans of spray paint and stencils and set them loose on the city of Nelsonville — but it’s not what you think.

The event is part of the School’s Rain to River Education Program, backed by a grant from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund (OEEF) to educate communities about protecting local streams by keeping pollution out of storm drains and empower them to take initiative to preserve those streams.

Jen Bowman, acting director of environmental programs at the Voinovich School, applied for the $23,721 grant, which was awarded in late 2016. Administered by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the OEEF awards about $1 million each year in grants to promote Ohioans’ awareness and understanding of environmental issues.

With the funds, the Rain to River Education Program will provide interested individuals in communities around the Appalachian basin in southeast Ohio with the supplies to stencil storm drains and host their events. They will use a stencil of a small fish and the phrase “No Dumping, Drains to River,” signifying that anything draining or dumped into the storm drain will flow straight into a river or stream and will not go through a treatment facility. The next stenciling event will be at 10 a.m. April 22 in Nelsonville, OH.

The funds also are paying for educational hang tags that are distributed in the communities. The tags provide information about the stenciling; resources for addressing litter and other pollutants that often end up in storm drains and local waterways; how to get answers to questions about where to dump items that could potentially find their way into a stream; and project contact information.

Bowman said the project goal is to stencil 1,500 storm drains across the Appalachian basin. She and her team will not be stenciling many drains themselves; their goal is to “train the trainer” and provide kits and webinars to local residents, who can take on a stenciling project of their own.

Rain to River hosted its first webinar, “Rain to River: Raise Awareness about Stormwater Pollution” on March 28. Sarah Cornwell, environmental specialist, taught participants how to organize their own storm drain stenciling volunteer events. They also learned methods to teach residents to value their local waterways in hopes they will stencil educational messages next to storm drains on their own. The webinar attracted 34 registrants and created interest for a second webinar to be hosted at a future date. A recorded version of the webinar can be found on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/JKVpKaoZclU.

Another grant-funded part of the project is an interpretive storm water exhibit hosted in the Athens County Public Libraries. The exhibit offers educational information on storm water and green infrastructure in neighborhoods. The piece is being developed with Gerard Hilferty & Associates, a local, nationally recognized museum planning and exhibit design agency. The program is hoping to have this exhibit travel to various locations this summer.

“This is a year-long grant and one of long-term objectives is for this project to become sustainable. As long as we have supplies in our kits and interested folks across the region who want to do this, we’ll find a way to get the materials out,” Bowman said.

To organize a community stenciling event, or for more information, contact Sarah Cornwell at landerss@ohio.edu or 740.593.9601.