The end of this long, cold winter brings sunny spring cleanup days and new outdoor projects. My family is going to be creating a new compost area and adding to our gardens, all the while considering how that stream across the way will be impacted. It’s easy to see how choices on our property affect our local waterways: My family lives on the edge of a Metropark with our creek just across the street and down the hill.
Your actions in your own yard influence water quality in your river too, particularly if you live within that stream’s watershed. Your actions can affect that stream more than you may realize.
Here are some ways watershed residents can take an active part in pollution prevention and watershed management. Take your river into consideration when doing your spring cleaning and home upkeep this year—and every year!
Do the car washing on gravel, or a spot on your driveway where the water runs into the grass. The soil will filter out the soap from your washing fluid before it makes its way into groundwater—and then into the stream. You may try washing your car over a tarp on the grass, or waiting until the ground is dry before moving it back onto pavement so you don’t damage your yard.
At the end of the day, surfactants and aquatic life don’t get along too well. A simple hand soap can damage mucus layers and gills of the local fish. If the soapy, dirty water from your car’s spring bath just runs down the driveway and into the storm drain, it goes directly into the stream.
Cut Fertilizers and Pesticides
When using any sort of fertilizer or pesticide, be sure to apply a day before rain is predicted; your products will be more effective and won’t wash away into your local waterway. If they do, both of them can cause algae blooms in streams, cutting off oxygen to aquatic life. Take a second to look at your lawn before treating it with fertilizer. If your local soil and water conservation office performs free soil-testing, it can help you determine if your lawn needs certain extra nutrients. You may also consider using white vinegar mixed with table salt as a weed-killer, instead of the stronger stuff.
Maintain Your Tank
If your property uses a septic tank to treat waste water, you may be aware of your watershed already. Septic tanks prevent water pollution when they work properly, but cause pollution when they don’t. As with car-washing, you can be sending soap—as well as sewage—into your local stream.
Be sure to keep up on maintenance and have your tank pumped out every few years. Inspect leach bed areas for greener grass, which can be a sign your system needs some work. The grass may be happier, but the groundwater will be seeing those additives as well.
When you’re up on a ladder cleaning out gutters, take a look at where they end up. Do they run onto the grass or do they send water into a pipe underground? More than likely there’s a pipe involved, and it is connected—directly or indirectly—to storm drains that lead to your river. Rainwater that runs off your roof is actually pollution to a stream. In warmer weather, roofs can heat up storm water, increasing the temperature of the streams significantly if enough roofs are present. These higher temps aren’t just uncomfortable for fish; they also affect the oxygen-carrying capacity of the water. Fish need air too, and if there’s less of it in their watery home, they won’t be happy.
Tar asphalt flecks, residue, and the like aren’t good for streams either. Disconnecting your gutters from the storm pipe will be a bigger job and probably involve a trip to the hardware store. The city of Toronto produced an instructional video you may find helpful.
Litter never sounds overly threatening, but it can be much more damaging than expected. Trash that doesn’t get recycled or sent to a landfill will ultimately end up in a river or lake. With more rain and snow melt in the spring, there’s a lot more movement of water, and trash will move with it. Litter is a big eyesore, but it can also carry contaminants or toxins that pollute your waterways. Trash also tends to stick together, and as a result, causes jams that can block natural river flow.
You can help curb this effect by never littering and participating in a river or roadway cleanup. American Rivers sponsors many cleanup events and is a great place to discover opportunities to plan your own. When our family hikes on the Metropark trails, we take a bag to pick up litter – it was our three year old’s idea!
A lot of what we do affects the watersheds in which we live. What else have you done to prevent pollution in your local river? Will you be disconnecting your gutters or washing your car on the grass?
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.