State and local governments, volunteer groups, water quality professionals, and ordinary people are working together to clean up our lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. You can help! Whether you live in a big city or in the country, you can prevent nonpoint source pollution by taking simple actions on your property or in your community. The following are some simple solutions to a big problem. Together, we can all make a difference!
Dispose of Oil and Household Chemicals Properly
The public can keep oils and chemicals out of local streams by utilizing and supporting local toxic drop-off sites, maintaining vehicles to reduce leaks and never pouring any materials down a storm drain.
Maintain Septic Tanks
Just like any other tool or appliance, a septic tank needs to be maintained to function properly. A septic tank allows solids, greases, and liquids to separate in the tank. Bacteria break down the solids and the liquid is treated as it moves into the absorption field. A properly working septic system shouldn’t release anything that’s harmful to you or the environment.
Find Other Ways to Water Livestock
There are many options for reducing the impact of livestock on water quality. The most efficient way to improve water quality is to block animals from directly accessing streams, rivers, and other water bodies. Livestock trample the stream bank and deposit feces, allowing higher E. coli levels. Limit access with fences and provide alternative drinking water sources. If you pasture livestock, consider creating a rotational grazing system that reduces pasture erosion and allows the vegetation time to grow. For other ideas more specific to your facility, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District [PDF].
Reduce Sediment Run-off from Fields
Fertile soil is an important ingredient in a successful agriculture operation. As a result, it is vital to keep your fields’ fertile soil in place. Soil loss often occurs in fields that border meandering streams. While you can’t completely stop soil from entering the stream, you can limit movement by planting buffer strips and encouraging the growth of a healthy riparian corridor. Together, those practices will help keep fertile soil on your field.
There’s also plenty you can do to maintain your field and soil. Reduced tillage techniques improve the structure of your soil, leaving a vegetative cover that protects the soil from erosion. Using cover crops is gaining popularity with farmers wishing to strengthen and protect their soil resources.
Reduce Nutrient Run-off from Fields
Regardless of whether agriculture fertilizers are man-made or animal manure, nutrients used on fields should be properly applied and stored to protect water quality. Best management practices for fertilizer should be used. Manure should never be stored for long periods in the open. Fertilizer applications should be modified to meet the soil’s nutrient needs, not exceed them. For more information contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
Create and Enhance Riparian Corridors
Riparian corridors are the buffer zones between used land and a stream, most often planted with vegetation. A well-established riparian corridor can help regulate water temperature, protect the bank from erosion, and filter pollutants from storm water. The recommended width of a riparian corridor varies depending on its intended use and surrounding land use. You can start improving your riparian corridor by allowing natural growth, rather than mowing along the stream bank. Allowing native plants to take over the area, as well as adding trees and bushes will help increase the function of your corridor.
Pick Up Pet Waste
It’s simple to reduce nonpoint source pollution from pet waste - just pick up after your pet. Pet waste contributes to nutrient and E. coli nonpoint source pollution. Pet stores and large retail stores carry small plastic bags for picking up pet waste. Biodegradable bags are even available for purchase.
Take Care of Big Issues on Small Farms
Depending on the type and number of animals you have, there are many options for reducing the impact of your hobby farm. First, consider isolating animals from water bodies and providing alternative drinking water sources. Animals trample vegetation on stream banks and deposit feces in the water. If you pasture animals, create a rotational grazing system that reduces pasture erosion and allows the vegetation time to grow. A rotational grazing system will also allow for the ease of composting, if you are interested in reducing nutrient impacts even further. For other ideas more specific to your operation, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
Read the Label - Use Lawn and Garden Fertilizer Wisely
Fertilizer is composed of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The content of each is usually listed as a string of three numbers on the fertilizer bag. Although garden plants need varying levels of each chemical to grow properly, Indiana’s soil provides plenty of phosphorus for established lawns. Using fertilizer with low or no phosphorous for established lawns will keep it green and minimize the impact on water quality. Starter fertilizer should only be used when growing grass from seeds. When you apply fertilizers, make sure you follow the directions. Over-application and sloppy application leads to fertilizer washing from lawns, sidewalks, and streets into storm drains.
Think Before You Dig
Construction sites that disturb one acre or more of land are required to use best management practices (BMPs) to keep sediment out of water bodies. Although it’s likely your backyard project won’t come close to the one acre size limit, it’s still a good idea to avoid leaving bare soil on your property. If you need to disturb the soil for any reason, reseed and replant bare ground as soon as possible to keep soil on your yard and out of streams, rivers, and lakes.
Give Water More Places to Go
In urban areas, land development and impermeable pavement increases storm water run-off, and subsequently the volume of flow when storm water enters waterbodies. This increase can impact the environment through downstream flooding, stream bank erosion, and increased nonpoint source pollution. You can do things on your property that can hold onto storm water like a sponge, giving it time to infiltrate into ground water:
- Plant a rain garden to catch and infiltrate excess storm water as it flows across your yard.
- Connect your downspouts to rain barrels and then use that water to irrigate landscape during dry periods. Make sure the barrel’s overflow goes to a pervious surface like a garden or yard instead of your impervious driveway.
- When it’s time to replace your driveway, use some type of porous pavement. These materials allow storm water to soak through and infiltrate into the ground. If you can’t afford a whole driveway of porous pavement, consider using it at the driveway’s apron where it meets the street.