SOLANA BEACH — Of all the people you expect to run into at Solana Beach’s city hall, teenagers are not the first demographic to come to mind.
But on June 12 — a school night, no less — a dedicated group of Earl Warren Middle School students packed into city hall chambers ready to impress. Prepared with months of research, the students asked the city to adopt a resolution prohibiting the city’s use of plastic straw wattles.
The council unanimously and enthusiastically passed the resolution, which was drafted by the students with help from city staff.
The approximately 40 students are participants in Earl Warren’s Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program, a program that empowers local students to study stormwater runoff on their campuses.
The program first started in 2013, at schools in the Encinitas Union School District, and has since expanded to over a dozen schools in the area. Earl Warren is the first middle school to implement the program, after the city allocated a used oil payment program grant from CalRecycle to fund it.
The students met on five different occasions to learn the ups and downs of watersheds and stormwater runoff, all on late-start days when your typical student might opt to get some extra shut-eye.
Students collected stormwater samples in the rain and sent them off to a certified lab to test for pollutants. After discovering that oil, grease and trash were entering the school’s storm drains, students worked to promote environmentally-sound car maintenance by working with local businesses, and conducted educational outreach among their peers.
After noticing the amount of total suspended solids (“a fancy way to say dirt,” as one student put it) flowing into drains, they proposed using straw wattles to help block such substances.
Straw wattles are tubes of straw meant to trap dirt and slow water flow, typically within a construction site.
However, students noticed that the plastic wrapped around the wattles was deteriorating and flowing into the storm drains. So the students took action, recommending their school make the switch to straw wattles wrapped in biodegradable burlap netting.
The students decided to go the extra step and ask the city to do the same. In February, the students presented their findings, and at the instruction of council, continued to research the topic.
Students reported that the city purchased 400 linear feet of straw wattles in the past fiscal year, about half of which was plastic-wrapped. The students concluded that if the city were to switch completely to biodegradable straw wattles, the financial impact would be about $160 more.
In June, the students came back with a resolution mandating the use of biodegradable straw wattles for all non-emergency city projects.
The room gleefully applauded the students after their resolution was passed.
“It is powerful to think that because of our young voices, before you is a resolution to ban plastic-wrapped straw wattles,” said student Shawn Barnes. “With the help of your staff, we have learned a lot about straw wattles and the civic process.”
Above: Students with Earl Warren’s Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program (SWPPP) present their findings at a Feb. 27 Solana Beach City Council meeting. The students came back several months later with a drafted resolution banning plastic-wrapped straw wattles for city projects. Photo courtesy of SWPPP
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.