When it comes to stormwater pollution, sharing is NOT caring!

Our everyday activities can really contribute to stormwater pollution if we aren’t careful. Trash, litter, pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, oil, you name it – it can end up in the storm drain and on its way to the nearest stream before you know it! Of course, that pollution can have a major impact on the fish and other animals that live in those streams, ponds, and rivers where the pollution ends up. What would happen if the fish could tell us they didn’t appreciate us sharing our dirty stormwater with them?

Check out the video below to see what happened when Jonny Fishpatrick was fed up with the stormwater pollution being dumped in his home, and imagine how this could be happening in your neighborhood!

Did you know that good old fashioned dirt is actually a MAJOR stormwater pollutant?!

What happens to dirt in stormwater?

When soil, dirt, sand, clay, or other tiny bits of earth end up in stormwater, we then call it “sediment” because those pieces can eventually settle out to the bottom of a body of water. However, moving water such as stormwater runoff through our neighborhoods and cities keeps the sediment from settling and can cause serious problems for water quality.

What does sediment do in the environment?

Sediment pollution creates many issues in the environment; here are just a few!

  • Clogs fish gills and suffocates small insects and other animals;
  • Creates murky, cloudy water that blocks sunlight from reaching plants;
  • Transports hundreds of other chemicals and pollutants to our drinking water that are hitching a ride on the sediment;
  • Encourages growth of toxic algae that can make people and animals sick;
  • Completely changes the course of a river or stream by depositing new banks!

What can we do to reduce stormwater pollution from sediment?

Sediment can come from many sources, such as construction sites or digging, erosion when vegetation has been removed, and even just dust and grime from your driveway, car, and sidewalk. You can help keep this dirt from getting in our streams and rivers by sweeping up instead of hosing down!

If you see muddy brown water being deliberately sent into the storm drain like in the photo below, or if you see lots of sediment coming from a construction site, call your local water department (contact info here) and let them know right away.

Run off

Do you know your Watershed Address?

Everyone has an address. It starts with your name, then your house by number, then the road you live on, then the town, and finally the state you live in. Each part of your address is a larger area. Watersheds work the same way. Each small stream is part of a larger river system. Everybody lives in a watershed!

watersheds_trace

Smaller streams in the upper reaches of a watershed flow downhill to form a larger watershed or river basin. Trace your hand to see how small streams (fingers) flow together to form a larger water body like a lake (hand) which flows into a river (wrist and arm).

Watersheds Are Handy

A watershed is simply the area of land that drains to a body of water, so even a small creek in your backyard has a watershed. Small watersheds make up larger watersheds, which in turn form larger river basins, which may drain to the largest water body of all…the ocean!

Here’s a “hands-on” activity to help you visualize this concept!

  1. Trace your hand and wrist.
  2. Imagine your fingertips are high mountain tops. Picture rain falling on them, forming a small stream of water that flows down each finger. Also picture “groundwater” seeping up to the earth’s surface at each of your fingertips and adding water to the small stream or watershed.
  3. These five small watersheds flow into each other as they run down to your hand. Cup your palm—together the five small watersheds form one larger watershed.
  4. Imagine this large watershed joined by other large watersheds. Soon they flow together as one “river” down your wrist.
  5. The river continues its journey to your lower arm, your larger upper arm, and eventually flows into the largest part of you: your body or the largest water body on earth…the “ocean.”

Cool Fact: Your body is approximately 75% water, and so is the Earth!

Watersheds Are In Your Hands

Watersheds reflect how people treat their land and water. Healthy watersheds reflect human communities that value and respect the natural resources that sustain them. Clean water is the result of their individual and collective efforts to prevent water pollution.

Take Action

Today, the greatest threat to watersheds in our communities and our country is stormwater pollution! Give clean water a hand by practicing clean water stewardship every day. Here’s more information about stormwater in our daily lives.

Additional Resources

EPA’s Nonpoint Source Pollution pages for kids.

Give Water A Hand is a national watershed education program that can help you find out how to get involved in local environmental projects.

How Natural Vegetation Creates Stream Buffers to Protect Waterbodies from Stormwater Pollution (and how you can help build one!)

What is a stream buffer?Image result for riparian buffer

Stream (also called riparian) buffers are strips of trees and other vegetation that:

  • improve water quality by filtering pollutants from stormwater runoff such as oil, fertilizers, pesticides, and dog waste;
  • reduce flooding and erosion by stabilizing stream banks;
  • moderate stream temperature and sunlight, keeping fish and other aquatic life healthy;
  • provide nesting and foraging habitat for many species of birds and animals.

You can help stream buffers purify our water by planting native trees and bushes along your stream or ditch, especially if the bank is bare or eroding. If you already have trees or shrubs along your waterway, simply leave it alone!

Mowing, cutting, and removing buffer vegetation may be regulated in your area, so check with your local government before undertaking landscaping or other projects within 100 feet of any water conveyances. (Selective cutting of understory shrubs and scrub by hand is usually allowed in very small amounts, but it is better to let the vegetation continue its natural regeneration process, which will allow trees to mature, form a canopy, and prevent undergrowth naturally.) Continue reading