Skip directly to: Navigation for this section | Main page content

Public Service Research Program

Photo: Students created a poster to share their findings

Students created a poster to share their findings

Curb to Creek Stormwater Research and Action Project

Urban runoff is a major source of water pollution. In creeks and watersheds in urban areas, the runoff carries pollutants from both concentrated and diffuse urban centers of activities, including residences, lawns, streets, businesses, and commercial zones. Most of this runoff flows into storm drains, ultimately ending up in nearby creeks. Pollutants (both organic and inorganic) degrade water quality and lead to decreased viability of plants and animals in creeks. A combination of storm intensity and duration, physical design of urban areas, and the behavior of people affect how much runoff occurs and the extent of pollutants that are carried to creeks. In looking for changes in how communities approach urban runoff, community members themselves can be effective catalysts for change, particularly in raising awareness of environmental issues and in developing an ethic of environmental stewardship.

During winter 2005, a group of UC Davis graduate students working on a community science initiative with PSRP concluded that urban stormwater runoff was an important and often neglected topic in watershed education and community design. They began developing a stormwater runoff program that could be made available to schools and communities. During this same period, a partner organization, the Solano Resource Conservation District, was conducting a "Suisun Marsh Watershed Project: Bioassessment in Fairfield's Creeks" program with high school classes in Solano County. That program focused on habitat assessment and water quality of local creeks but also introduced the topics of stormwater runoff and urban water pollution.

The catalyst for the UC Davis group to focus its stormwater runoff program on a Solano County high school class was the request of students to learn more about how urban runoff affects their local creeks. With environmental sciences teacher Mr. Salerno-White's Rodriguez High School class in Fairfield, the graduate students piloted the new program. The school is a suburban high school located within the runoff zone of a nearby creek, American Canyon Creek. During spring of 2005, "Curb to Creek" was implemented, complementing and overlapping with the RCD's creek health investigation being conducted by the same class.

The educational approach of the "Curb to Creek" program aimed to engage students in critical thinking, hands-on inquiry, and teamwork with their peers. These skills would be needed in the job world, help the students be successful in college, and give them the opportunity to discover that citizen participation can start with youth.

The "Curb to Creek" curriculum introduced the high school students to stormwater issues, setting the stage for student team-based research investigations in their school, a survey of an adjacent neighborhood, and a hot spot survey. Data collection was followed by student analysis of their findings and a guided discussion on what the students could do to help their school and community decrease stormwater runoff and pollution. In teams, the students developed mini-community design and action projects which they presented to their classmates, teacher, principal and a representative from the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District.

Project Challenge/Research Question: Student question: "How can we make a difference in the health of creeks that flow through or near our communities?" Research question: "How does getting youth involved in community action activities about urban runoff increase their interest in civic engagement and watershed health?"

Liaisons: Lori Kennedy, Community Development & Civil & Env.Engr, Masters programs
Carrie Harvilla, Community Development, Masters program
Innisfree Seyman, Geography, Masters program
Culley Thomas, Urban & Regional Planning (UC Berkeley), Masters program

Site: Fairfield, Solano County, California, Rodriguez High School and adjacent neighborhood.

Partners: Rodriguez High School Environmental Science AP class; Solano Resource Conservation District, Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District

Associated Projects/Research: "Suisun Marsh Watershed Project: Bioassessment in Fairfield's Creeks" high school program (Solano Resource Conservation District). Curb to Creek Curriculum.

Project Time Line: 2005

Funding: UC Davis