Gullywashers like we recently have had certainly are welcome. However, they always remind me of the water-pollution problems they can cause when we make poor choices around our home and work areas where we live.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 controls pollutant discharge from what the Environmental Protection Agency calls “point sources” into any navigable waters of the United States — well, at least they are supposed to do so. Point sources mean that the pollution is generated from identifiable, specific entities like industrial, commercial and municipal facilities. They are required to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which requires compliance with technology and water quality-based treatment standards.
Unfortunately, the most significant danger to our local waterways — “nonpoint sources” — are actually far harder to control. Nonpoint pollution develops mainly in our homes, backyards, roads, businesses and more heavily populated areas. Around here, NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or irrigation moving over and through the ground. As the water runs off, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants and deposits them into bodies of water and even our underground sources of drinking water.
It is often referred to as stormwater pollution, because those little downpours of rain wash the pollution and debris into our groundwater and our waterways. These pollutants include:
• Oil, grease and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production
• Sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands and eroding stream banks
• Salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines
• Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet waste and faulty septic systems.
According to the EPA, nonpoint source pollution is the leading cause of water-quality problems. Nonpoint pollution is known to have harmful effects on drinking water, wildlife and — as we are now learning — our sport and seafood fisheries.
As urbanization continues, the effects of nonpoint pollution will worsen.
Because we create these nonpoint problems, we as good neighbors need to reduce or prevent this pollution. Here are 10 ways each of us can minimize the problems created by stormwater pollution, courtesy of keeplibertybeautiful.org:
1. Use lawn and garden chemicals sparingly, or use organic alternatives. Whatever you put on your lawn could find its way to a stream.
2. Choose low-maintenance, native plants that require fewer chemicals and less watering. There are plenty of fantastic indigenous plants and trees that look beautiful in this region.
3. Don’t dump anything into storm drains. Most lead directly into area waterways. Litter, cigarette butts and any debris will end up in our waterways.
4. Wash your car on the lawn or gravel, which filter the dirt and soap out of the water. Use soaps without phosphates, which remove oxygen from the water, or go to a car wash that recycles wash water.
5. Fix any oil leak in your car and recycle oil and other car fluids. Please don’t just pour them onto the ground or down a storm drain.
6. Clean after your pet and dispose the waste in the garbage or flush it down the toilet.
7. Use phosphate-free household cleaners.
8. Keep your septic system maintained to prevent leaks. Have it checked or serviced every three to five years.
9. Sweep driveways and sidewalks instead of hosing them off.
10. Reduce the amount of impervious surfaces around your home. Alternatives such as paving blocks, gravel, cobbles, brick and natural stone can replace asphalt and concrete in driveways, parking lots and walkways. Water then can slowly drain through these surfaces rather than gushing off hard surfaces and taking all the debris with it.
Let’s face it, we are nonpoint source pollution when we make choices that create these problems. So be a good neighbor and try some of these steps to help keep our waters clean!