CHICO — Car washes have long been a staple in school and community group fundraisers. People get their cars washed and feel good about making a donation.

But not everyone is thinking about the fact the water usually runs straight into storm drains, which lead to area creeks.

As part of the Storm Water Management, Education and Outreach Program funded by the city of Chico, Jennifer Oman-Payne's is teaching high school kids how to hold cleaner car washes.

Ideally, the cars would be washed where the water could drain into the soil, keeping soap and car fluids from the waterways. But often that's not feasible.

Oman-Payne met with students from the Associated Student Body Club at Chico High School to teach them how to better manage car wash runoff.

The procedure is fairly simple, Oman-Payne explained. The storm drain is blocked off with a heavy mat and a dam is created to funnel water where it can be moved with a sump pump.

The water is then pumped out and diverted into an area where it can soak into soil. In the case of Chico High, this will be a grassy area.

Homeowners can avoid storm water runoff by washing their car on lawn or soil.

Oman-Payne is teaching students how to create their own clean car wash kits to have on-hand for fundraisers.

Students will also be trained to have a checklist to first clean up all the trash in the area and to use biodegradable soap.

Even these types of soaps can be harmful if not used according to the label, Oman-Payne explained, so students are taught to use soap only when needed.

According to materials from the program, one ounce of biodegradable soap needs 156 gallons of water to dilute it to be safe for fish.

She gave big kudos to Olivia Filbrandt, Chico High ASB Club president, for inviting students from other schools to attend the car wash training and for taking an interest in the effort.

The hope is that as more people become trained, they will train their own club members.

Right now, the city has a car wash kit that fundraising groups can check out with a deposit of $500. The hope is that fundraising groups will be able to save money for their own kits, or buy them through donations.

Butte College students through MESA (Math Engineering Science Achievement) have been working to create economical kits that can be used by the community. The plan is for the students to donate one of the kits to the Chico Boys & Girls Club, Oman-Payne explained.

For more information online:, then click "how to prevent runoff."

The above article appeared in the Chico Enterprise-Record on Apri 4, 2010.