"How can we draw attention to our continuing need to educate the public about water quality issues as part of our NPDES permit requirements?"

What's that old song say, "Everything old is new again"? Educating the public about water quality as part of the NPDES permit program may require your agency to do something different that attracts attention to the problem. The Mid America Regional Council Water Quality Public Education Committee, in Kansas City, MO, has launched a campaign to promote the use of rain barrels to conserve water. I remember my grandmother setting out barrels to collect rainwater to use for laundry purposes. These rain barrels are containers that safely collect and store rainwater from downspouts and rooftops for future use watering lawns and gardens during dry summer months. Using rain barrels is one way people can be good stewards of the local watershed by decreasing the amount of stormwater that runs off properties. While this may seem an old-fashioned method of dealing with a modern problem, it is a simple and relatively low-cost way that just may be "trendy" enough to get the public's attention. For more information on the MARC plan, contact Andy Graham at

"While leading a nature walk in our park with a class of schoolchildren recently, a child stumbled upon a mysterious plastic container hidden under a tree. Inside the box were some trinkets, a notebook and a few trash bags. Because it looked like something that belonged to someone, we left it. Later I heard it's part of a new trend called "geocaching." Can you explain more about it and whether we should encourage it in our parks?"

Did you ever play "Pirate" and go in search of a buried treasure? Most of us have probably done so but it was years ago when kids still knew what a pirate was and were healthy enough to get up off the couch and go follow written clues and then dig up the treasure and share it with their friends. Today's geocaching is a high-tech version of this old game. In the past three years, the challenge has taken off and many families visit national, state and local parks using their held global positioning systems (GPS) to follow latitude and longitude coordinates that are located on special websites. The geocache is usually a plastic container which has trinkets, a logbook, and often trash bags which one group leaves for the next to discover. When it's found, the new group trades some small memento of their own for one in the cache, signs the log book, takes a trash bag and picks up trash as they leave the park area so that someone else can find it again. Some parks are banning the practice due to security concerns and others are setting up regulations that limit how large and where they may be left, i.e., nothing is buried that might appear to be a bomb. For more information, visit the website at and then ask your outdoorsy neighbors for more information!

"I've heard it all now. Astroturf is being used on highways in Minnesota. Can this be true?"

Well, it depends on whether you consider "used" meaning to lay it on stretches of highway like you would a football field or whether you mean to use it as a method of reducing the loud and obnoxious "whine" or "hum" produced when a car drives over grooved or "tined" concrete pavement. As you would surmise, the second meaning is more accurate. The Federal Highway Administration has given the Minnesota Department of Transportation permission to replace the old method of "tining," which looks a lot like concrete sidewalks which have been brushed with a broom, with the new Astroturf texture. I understand it is accomplished by weighting the wiry plastic grass down with gravel and dragging it over freshly-poured concrete. The rough surface that follows this treatment is pocked so it is skid-resistant which is something tining is supposed to provide, but it also eliminates the high-pitched whine of cars traveling over grooved pavement. You might want to contact for more information.

"I recently heard someone talking about their 'Vector Control' program in public works and I'm confused. What exactly is it and how does it apply to my department?"

Sounds like something straight out of "Star Trek," doesn't it? Should we move at warp speed to handle the issue, Scotty? Humorous as it may seem, we really should be well versed in vector control because it can dramatically impact your community and residents. A "vector" is "any insect or other anthropoid, rodent, or other animal of public health significance capable of causing human discomfort, injury, or capable of harboring or transmitting the causative agents of human disease, including, but not limited to, mosquitoes, flies, other insects, ticks, mites, rats, and bats, but not including any domesticated animal" according to the definition in the 5th edition of the Public Works Management Practices Manual. Since many of these creatures inhabit areas where the public might be impacted, such as low-lying or poorly-drained areas, uninhabited structures, etc., it is important for the department to develop a plan for handling these concerns. Identifying the population, preparing for the level of service necessary to address the issue, educating the public on these services, and chemical and physical control are all essential parts of a vector control program. For more information, check out Chapter 27 of the 5th edition of the Public Works Management Practices Manual. Let me know if you find a way to "beam them up" and away from our environment.

Ask Ann...

Questions are welcome.

Please address all inquiries to:

Ann Daniels
Director of Technical Services
APWA, 2345 Grand Blvd., Suite 500
Kansas City, MO 64108-2625
Fax questions to (816) 472-1610