All drains lead to the river. That’s the message the non-profit organization Greening Vermillion is hoping to send to area residents with its storm drain awareness campaign.

The campaign, which was started a few years ago, now has three new, brightly-colored drains to draw attention to the idea that what ends up on the street – be it salt used to melt snow on sidewalks, runoff from washing your car, fertilizers from the garden, or pet waste – eventually ends up in the river.

“Some people believe that the water that goes down storm drains is processed at a water treatment facility, but it isn’t,” said Meghan Jarchow, chair and associate professor of USD’s Department of Sustainability & Environment and a member of Greening Vermillion. “It goes straight into the Vermillion River. The Adopt-a-Drain program is a fun way to blend environmental awareness building, art, and community engagement.”

Three new works of art were added during the past few weeks to the streets of Vermillion.

Dakota Wilson, a senior art education student at USD, painted a drain at the corner of National and Center Streets that features a cat urging the public to think about keeping the water going down the drain clean.

“I feel very strongly about the presence of Vermillion cats – I love them!” says Wilson. “I think the uniqueness that cats bring to the Vermillion community is very interesting. I decided to focus on the cat imagery for my mural and incorporate a small quote that helps viewers make the connection between the cats and the water that is polluted in Vermillion.”

Vermillion resident Jen Maggio painted her drain mural at the southeast corner of Austin School. Her artwork features a background sunset inspired by her days at Clay County Park along with a turtle.

“One native species of turtle that has always been interesting to me is the center piece of my piece,” explains Maggio. “This turtle is the spiny softshell turtle. I am participating in this project because conservation and protecting our environment have always been important to me. This turtle is currently at a sustainable level, but at any time it could change due to human activities in the area.”

When she saw the call for artists for drain art, Maggio jumped at the chance to participate.

“My husband and I decided to settle down in Vermillion due to the wonderful community we have here,” says Maggio, who moved to the area two years ago. “I have always enjoyed walking around and admiring the drain art, sculptures, and murals around town. I’m proud to be able to participate.”

The youngest artist ever to participate in Greening Vermillion’s Storm Drain awareness campaign is third-grader Thea Jarchow, who painted a drain, with the help of her grandmother, Kathy Jarchow, in front of Jolley Elementary School.

“I’m excited that my friends at school will get to see my artwork,” says Thea, whose colorful mural is inspired by the Vermillion and Missouri rivers.

Anne Moore, Greening Vermillion member, says the drain art program is an important way to spread the word about what happens with the water flowing down the streets and through storm drains. Understanding the difference between storm drains and sanitary sewers is also important, she said.

“The Wastewater Department has explained that storm sewers go straight from roads to the Vermillion River and sanitary sewers go from buildings to the Wastewater Treatment Plant,” she said.

Knowing the difference and what is appropriate for each will help keep all systems working correctly for the benefit of the environment.

“When people connect sump pumps to the sanitary sewer, it overloads the treatment system,” Moore said. “That water should go to the storm sewer instead. … Sanitary sewers also have issues getting clogged with diapers, "flushable" wipes, and grease. We can help our sewers and rivers by keeping out trash and chemicals, clearing leaves and debris off storm sewers, and connecting sump pumps to storm sewers.

“Planting a rain garden or installing a rain barrel are also great options if you have a property,” she said. “We can also reduce our reliance on single-use plastic, which tends to blow out of trash cans and trucks and enter storm sewers and float down the river.”

Options for safely discarding paint, medicines, and hazardous waste that do not involve storm or sewer drains can be found at greeningvermillion. org.

Once construction is complete downtown, there will likely be a need for more drain art, say Greening Vermillion officials. Meghann Jarchow anticipates putting out another call for artists for sewer drain art in the spring.

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