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DOWNPOURS, like the one that swept through the area Saturday evening, can have a cleansing effect.
Not in my neighborhood. We live in the downtown area. It’s a corner lot and came equipped with a storm drain.
Storm drains serve useful and important purposes, chief of which is as an escape valve for excess water that collects during heavy rains. Some rains, however, are too much for most storm drains, even more so when the water trying to get through the grates is combined with debris it picks up along the way.
Some, perhaps most, of this debris is natural — leaves, tree and bush sprigs for example — but in the downtown Mother Nature’s deposits are joined with man-made elements. We call it litter.
Our downtown storm drain couldn’t handle the gully washer that swept into it Saturday night. For a good part of the evening, the street was under water. At the outset the backup was clearly the result of the heavy rain. As the evening wore on, there was nowhere for the water to go as the drain had become clogged with natural and man-made debris.
Eventually the standing water drained off, and the next morning I began the familiar job of removing the debris from the drain and cleaning our yard. It had been deposited not only around the drain but on the grass in the right-of-way next to the curb and even up onto the sidewalk.
There was the expected dead vegetation and the inevitable candy wrappers, Styrofoam cups, scratched-off lottery tickets and cigarette packages. The items that were the most obvious, however, were cigarette butts.
I’m accustomed to cigarette butts in our neighborhood. We try to police them along with the other litter that is dropped in our yard and on our sidewalks, but they’re not always clearly visible, especially the ones that wind up in our flower beds.
I didn’t have any trouble seeing the cigarette butts on our property following Saturday’s storm. They were clustered in groups, many of them in the litter gathered in the grates of our storm drain, but a good number were in the grass and sidewalk in front of and alongside our house.
As I began the process of cleaning up the debris and clearing the drain, I decided to put the butts aside to see if the situation was as bad as it looked. I collected 53 in a small sandwich bag.
In fairness, not all of these butts were discarded on our property alone. I’m sure the rain water had picked up the butts and related debris that had been dropped on other properties in our neighborhood.
On the other hand, I discovered that our lot wasn’t the only gathering place for discarded cigarette filters. On a walk through the downtown residential area Sunday, I came across a number of clumps of debris that had collected on sidewalks and in yards. In each instance, the debris contained dozens of butts.
In the realm of major
community issues I’ll have to admit that cigarette-butt litter hardly ranks at the top of anyone’s agenda. On the other hand, I wonder what those clumps of used and flattened filters say about the downtown residential
Litter is a perpetual problem in the downtown, certainly more so than in outlying residential areas. Part of it can be explained by greater pedestrian traffic in the downtown, but essentially the real cause rests with the thoughtless people who toss their trash where it’s not supposed to be tossed.
Of all the litter that collects in the downtown, however, used cigarettes rank as the most disgusting in my book.
I am sure that most of those who use the sidewalks and properties of others as their personal ashtray are not going to be shamed into changing their habits. I’m also sure that there’s little that can be done in the way of enforcing city codes relating to littering.
Proud downtown property owners could have an effect by constantly policing their own, and some of the more ambitious might even band together to organize “butt details” to walk through their neighborhoods cleaning up the discarded filters along with other litter. Some older veterans of military service can serve as consultants, explaining to younger and abler neighbors the morning routines from their days in basic training.
Of course, the city could spend a boatload of money on significantly enlarging all of the storm drains so that the litter and water can flow into the underground channels together.
Unlikely (and possibly as unsafe) as that prospect is, we could say that rain does, indeed, have a cleansing effect.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.
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