Storm drains in Chapel Hill will soon have a new look.
The Community Arts & Culture division of the Town is selecting artists to paint 6-foot murals on the areas surrounding the drains. The designs are intended to be themed around the environment in an effort to help protect local waterways.
“We hope the storm drain murals call attention to the best stormwater management practices and beautify the streetscapes of Chapel Hill,” Chapel Hill Public Art Coordinator Steve Wright said.
Waterways under threat
Nearly all of Chapel Hill storm drains are emptied into the Jordan Lake Watershed, a 1,687-square-mile area in central North Carolina. The watershed serves a variety of purposes, including providing clean drinking water for nearly 700,000 Triangle residents, hosting a diverse ecosystem of plant and animal species, serving as flood control for regions downstream and keeping the air clean.
Point source pollution, or direct deposits of wastewater, is the primary worry for Michael Piehler, a professor in the Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences and director of the UNC Institute for the Environment.
"The export of nutrients and sediments in the form of organic matter from the areas which form the watershed are the issue,” he said.
Storm drains are a cause of point source pollution. Point source dischargers make up nearly 50 percent of the total nitrogen and 25 percent of the total phosphorus loadings into Jordan Lake.
Piehler said the reservoir's nutrient composition is “a Goldilocks situation” — the right balance is needed.