Improving Pipe Keepers: 2018 updates for the League's citizen science program

Feb 28, 2018:
Established in 2012, Pipe Keepers is the League’s citizen science program to address stormwater runoff into Lake Tahoe, the most significant threat to the Lake’s world-famous clarity. Earlier this year, we overhauled the program to better combat the threat of stormwater pollution and expand opportunities to involve our dedicated volunteers.

What is stormwater pollution?
Unchecked twentieth-century development paved over much of Tahoe’s marshes and wetlands, which had acted as natural pollution filters. Now, when rain hits our roads and parking lots, it washes off fine sediment—the number one threat to Lake clarity—and other pollutants into storm drains that lead to the Lake.

How do Pipe Keepers help?
League experts train community members to assess and monitor stormwater pipes, report on the condition of stormwater infrastructure, and collect stormwater samples for analysis to help League staff locate and address the most polluting pipes.

What’s new in 2018?
Brand new for this year, the League’s natural resources team has updated our volunteer survey methods to emphasize visual monitoring of stormwater infrastructure,such as catchment basins, infiltration basins and sediment vaults. We’re expanding volunteer training opportunities so pipes are assessed monthly rather than only during storms. All of this will help us improve our data tracking and reporting, so we can better combat pollution.

For example, some of Lake Tahoe’s stormwater pipes have appropriate infrastructure to filter out harmful pollutants from stormwater before it enters Lake Tahoe or its tributaries. “With our new methods, we’re putting more emphasis on having volunteers inspect whether stormwater infrastructure is functioning, and also having them help identify what pollutants are going into them,” said Savannah Mendoza, the League’s natural resources program coordinator. “This will help jurisdictions know when to prioritize maintenance of such infrastructure, which is critical to ensure that fine sediment and other stormwater pollutants are kept out of Lake Tahoe.”

Through their visual observations, volunteers will also be providing data and information that supports the years of water quality sampling that the League has been doing and will continue to do. Pipe Keeper volunteers will collect and analyze stormwaters samples each spring and fall to bolster the visual observations being made throughout the year.

“We’re excited that the new Pipe Keeper program design will give volunteers opportunities to learn more about stormwater management as a whole system, instead of a more narrow focus on the end result of what comes out of stormwater pipes,” said Mendoza. “Informed and engaged community members are essential for us to protect Lake Tahoe.

The program shift will provide new opportunities for people to participate in Pipe Keepers through one-day events that include basin-wide sampling “blitzes”and targeted restoration days at stormwater basins.

Get involved.
We now offer Pipe Keeper trainings year round. Join us at our next training on March 22!

Learn more about Pipe Keepers.

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