Maybe Brigham Young University students should have tried to stage a community car wash on the Cougar Stadium football field rather than the stadium parking lot.
New wastewater regulations sent plans for Thursday's beginning-of-school service project down the drain.BYU's student service association intended to put 1,000 students to work washing dozens of cars Thursday evening at the stadium's south parking lot until university officials called the state Division of Water Quality. Harry Campbell, state storm-water coordinator, told BYU the magnitude of the event would violate state and federal clean-water laws because the soap suds would run into storm drains bound for the Provo River and Utah Lake.
"It didn't sound good to me, what they wanted to do down there," Campbell said. He did tell the BYU risk management and safety office that students who planned to use biodegradable soap could safely scrub about 20 cars. But BYU decided to cancel the car wash.
"I'm pretty environmentally conscious, but the extremes get kind of hard to live with," said Stacie Lloyd, student organizer of the car wash.
The little-known, 2-year-old law making discharges into the storm-drain system illegal has implications for other organizations as well. But Campbell said he doesn't expect the state to go after Boy Scout troops or church groups that hold charity car washes.
"We're not really out to enforce against that right now," he said.
But the game could change down the road. "Things are getting stricter and stricter on storm water," Campbell said.
The state also does not clamp down on people who wash their vehicles in the driveway and spray the soapy water into the gutter. Campbell does recommend, however, that residents wash their cars on the lawn. Microorganisms in the grass and soil naturally treat the runoff.
Provo city storm-water supervisor Greg Beckstrom said that charity and residential car washing doesn't occur on a large enough scale to be hazardous. But "those things do cause a problem when they get to the river."
The state does require businesses to obtain a permit to run water into the storm-drain system. Rental car agencies and trucking firms, for instance, are not allowed to discharge into storm drains. Runoff at commercial car washes goes into the sewer system.
The Salt Lake City/County Health Department recently sent the state motor pool a notice to cease flushing excess soapy water into the storm drain. The state, which hires a private company for car wash services, rewrote its contract to ensure runoff is properly treated, Campbell said.