Meaghan Liebe, Nicole Krumm and Krissy Bruns paint a design on a storm drain at the corner of Eighth Street and School Drive near Waunakee High School. The painting is part of a program designed to educate people about the effects on area waters of throwing trash and pollutants into storm drains.

Art has an impactful way of communicating messages that need to be heard.

In an effort to get people to stop throwing trash and pollutants into storm drains, where rain can carry such harmful materials out to area lakes, rivers and streams, a new program in Dane County has students painting murals on them to draw attention to the issue.

“I really like that this opportunity allows me to do something artistic and spread awareness,” said Waunakee High School Senior Chloe Urben. “I didn’t know there was such a problem with things going into storm drains.”

Neither did fellow Waunakee Senior Krissy Bruns. Part of the program involved a tutorial on the importance of keeping storm drains clean.

“I like the combination of painting with helping the environment,” said Bruns, a member of the Friends of Schmidt’s Woods.

On Thursday, Bruns and Urben helped paint a colorful mural on a storm drain near Waunakee High School at the corner of Eighth Street and School Drive. It’s one of 20 storm drains around Dane County that will feature similar murals. A total of 10 will be painted by area students. Other artists will do the other 10. Later this summer, there will be another storm drain mural painted in Waunakee.

The program, being led by the Madison Area Stormwater Partnership, Dane County and the Dane Arts Mural Arts (DAMA), uses art to educate people about water pollution and provide solutions for solving the problem. The three organizations hope the programs offers a way forward for people to take simple actions to protect water resources and teach others.

This is the first year of the project.

DAMA is no stranger to Waunakee. The organization helped students put up the mural on the wall of Waunakee Furniture ETC on Main Street. DAMA has been doing mural art for years, according to Alicia Rheal, who was on hand Thursday to help with the Waunakee project with fellow DAMA members Sonya Sankaran and Enida Rollor.

Members of DAMA helped Waunakee students finish painting the storm drain on May 17. They first made an outline of the design in chalk and paint, before students came out to finish the painting, which included messages on the sides of the structure.

“Even if you’re not an artist, you can still feel involved,” said Sankaran.

Following the educational component of the project, students from the high school art club made designs. Those designs were collected by DAMA and whittled down to three or four favorites that were mashed up. Two finalists were chosen and offered to the municipality to pick a winner.

Christal Campbell, stormwater education coordinator for the Dane County Land & Water Resources Department, stressed the importance of educating people about solutions to stormwater issues through art. Campbell said most people are unaware that these drains carry untreated pollutants to area waters.

The rainy spring has played havoc with the schedule for these projects. DAMA representatives said they had to cancel three recently.

It was perfect weather, however, for the Waunakee project last week. Bruns is hoping the drain design teaches people to keep those drains clean.

“I knew a little about storm drains before this, but I didn’t know how they affected the ecosystem,” said Bruns. “I think other people don’t have a clue either.”

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