Everyday actions you take in your yard and neighborhood could be polluting local water. Specifically, stormwater — the runoff generated when rain or snowmelt flows over land and surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, streets, parking lots, and rooftops — can be polluted.
“Stormwater is collected in catch basins and curb cutouts in the street, and not a lot of people know this, but those catch basins and curb cutouts lead directly to lakes, rivers, streams, and washes, not to your local water treatment plant,” Phoenix senior water quality inspector Ian Day told Sonoran Living.
Stormwater is the water that isn’t absorbed into the ground, which means it picks up dirt, trash, oil, grass clippings, chemicals, and other pollutants as it heads to nearby community water sources.
“Polluted stormwater runoff can have negative impacts to aquatic ecosystems, the environment and our drinking water sources,” according to local nonprofit STORM, which promotes stormwater education in the Phoenix area.
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take. Here are three tips to prevent stormwater pollution.
Pick up pet waste
Picking up poop during a walk with your pup or when you have a cat that wanders outside should be automatic for families with animals. Unfortunately, that is not always what happens, which is why dedicating yourself to the task is even more important when it comes to stormwater pollution.
“Although dog droppings are a natural product, the environment that we live in is not,” Day said. “We live in a city with curb cuts and with streets that collect water, and when dog waste gets into that water, the bacteria in that waste can live in that water for hours, days, sometimes even weeks.”
That means picking up poop in your yard is also important, even though you may not walk on the lawn. Any pet waste you pick up should then be thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet.
Properly use and dispose of chemicals
The chemicals you use to prevent weeds or help your lawn grow are toxic, both to you and to fish. If you or a professional you hire choose to use chemicals in your yard, it’s important to follow any manufacturer instructions and avoid letting them enter the stormwater system.
“The fertilizers, lawn care, they have directions on the back, so we want to remind people, read those directions — they’re there for a reason,” El Mirage environmental compliance coordinator Derek Castaneda told Sonoran Living. “Adding more doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting a better grass, greener grass or anything. Usually if you put too much, it’ll just run off, and that’s what we’re worried about.”
To combat these issues, use products that are environmentally friendly and consider spot treating or even pulling weeds, according to STORM. Finally, never throw away pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers, instead taking unused portions to a household hazardous waste collection center.
While living in a desert may mean you already conserve water, it is also important for avoiding runoff. For example, overwatering your lawn could create an excess that carries pollutants to your storm drain.
“Up to 70% of home water use is on landscaping,” according to STORM. “Properly managed outdoor water use can reduce non-stormwater discharges from your property.”
Here are a few ways to avoid creating excess water, according to STORM:
- Check your sprinkler and irrigation system for leaks.
- Adjust your sprinklers to prevent overspray.
- Adjust your watering schedule for the season.
- Consider harvesting rainwater.
- Xeriscape your lawn.
For more information about how to prevent stormwater pollution, visit azstorm.org.