Usually, when we picture streams, we are thinking more of a pastoral landscape.
Streams are, however, an important part of every landscape, no matter whether that landscape is a forest, city or suburb. In cities and towns, streams often are not very obvious but they are there — flowing under sidewalks, meandering through parks like Main Street Park, and rippling behind shopping centers and stores, like Peacock Canal on Highway 84. Streams and the areas around them provide important habitat for animals and plants that share an urban/suburban landscape with people.
Streams and creeks also are part of the network of channels where rainwater drains from our streets, sidewalks and yards. In a natural landscape, about half of the precipitation that falls soaks into the soil. The landscape in cities is different. Instead of soaking into the soil, most of the precipitation in cities runs off hard surfaces — sidewalks, asphalt and concrete — into nearby storm drains, which empty into local streams, creeks and ponds.
According to epa.gov, many cities have areas that are 75 percent to 95 percent impervious because of hard surfaces — parking lots, streets, sidewalks and driveways. In other words, most of the rain that falls in those areas will flow off streets and parking lots. Everything in the water’s pathway at that point is carried away with the rain. That will include any litter on the ground, yard waste that has not been properly disposed of, cigarette butts, motor oil that has dripped on roads and debris, such as loose sand and sediment eroding from the banks of the streams.
All of these items create dangers and hazards for fish and other aquatic life in our waterways. Litter and trash can be mistaken for food. Some types of litter, such as six-pack rings, can become traps for wildlife and aquatic life that get tangled up in them. Sediment and debris change the ecosystem in the streams by clouding the water and raising the temperature of the water, creating intolerable living conditions for the life — animal and plant — in these waters.
So, especially in more heavily populated areas with so many impervious surfaces, we need to be especially careful. Remember these ideas:
• Please do not litter, ever. It causes far more environmental problems than most people realize.
• Never dump items down storm drains, including yard waste, cigarette butts, cooking oil or used car fluids.
• When building commercial or home buildings, look for ways to use more pervious surfaces for walking paths, driveways and parking areas.
People are the biggest threat to healthy water quality because the everyday choices we make tend to pollute our waterways. We can all be more environmentally responsible by making these wiser choices. Let’s all look for ways to make city life a little easier for our city streams and their inhabitants by making smart choices.
For more information, email Keep Liberty Beautiful at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.keeplibertybeautiful.org.
Swida is director of Keep Liberty Beautiful.