Keeping Our Rivers Clean: Blog Action Day

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Today is Blog Action Day. Every year on October 15th bloggers around the world unite to write about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year, Blog Action Day is all about water, and I thought a good way to bring the issue home was to talk about what we can do in our homes to to help keep our local rivers clean. This Saturday is the Virginia Waterways Cleanup day (part of the Ocean Conservancy Coastal Cleanup effort) so it's a good time to think about how our behavior effects local water sources and make some changes and volunteer.

Most of us don't realize that things we do everyday contribute to water contamination. Do you fertilize your lawn? Does your car have an oil leak? Do you have a pet? Improperly disposed of household chemicals and waste are a major source of water contamination. When it rains, the chemicals contained in oil, paint,fertilizer, pet waste, and many other household items are washed into gutters, storm sewers, lakes and rivers--the same lakes and rivers we rely on for drinking, bathing, swimming and fishing.

So what can you do? The Natural Resources Defense Council has 12 recommendations for how all of us can stop contributing to polluting run-off.

In Your Home

  1. Correctly dispose of hazardous household products. Keep paints, used oil, cleaning solvents, polishes, pool chemicals, insecticides, and other hazardous household chemicals out of drains, sinks, and toilets. Many of these products contain harmful substances -- such as sodium hypochlorite, petroleum distillates, phenol and cresol, ammonia and formaldehyde -- that can end up in nearby water bodies. Visit the City of Alexandria website for guidance on the disposal of household hazardous waste.
  2. Use nontoxic household products whenever possible. Discarding toxic products correctly is important, but not buying them in the first place is better. Ask local stores to carry nontoxic products if they don't already.
  3. Recycle and dispose of all trash properly. Never flush non-degradable products -- such as disposable diapers or plastic tampon applicators -- down the toilet. They can damage the sewage treatment process and end up littering beaches and waters.
  4. Conserve water. Use the most efficient plumbing fixtures. A whopping 73 percent of the water you use in your home is either flushed down the toilet or washed down the shower drain. Toilet dams or bricks placed in your toilet tank can save four gallons of water per flush, or up to 13,000 gallons a year for the average family of four. Low-flow toilets and showerheads also yield major water savings. Repair drips promptly; a dripping faucet can waste 20 gallons a day, a leaking toilet 200 gallons. Sweep driveways and sidewalks instead of hosing them down.
  5. In Your Yard

  6. Use natural fertilizers. Apply natural fertilizer such as compost, manure, bone meal or peat whenever possible. Ask your local hardware and garden supply stores to stock these natural fertilizers. You can also buy a composting setup at a garden supply or hardware store, or by mail. Composting decreases the need for fertilizer and helps soil retain moisture. If you don't know how to compost, visit the Compost Resource Page.
  7. Avoid over-watering lawns and gardens. Use slow-watering techniques on lawns and gardens. Over-watering lawns can increase the leaching of fertilizers into groundwater. Trickle or "drip" irrigation systems and soaker hoses are 20 percent more efficient than sprinklers.
  8. Decrease impervious surfaces around your home. Having fewer hard surfaces of concrete and asphalt will improve drainage around your home and in your yard. Do your landscaping with vegetation, gravel or other porous materials instead of cement; install wood decking instead of concrete, and interlocking bricks and paver stones for walkways. Redirect rain gutters and downspouts to soil, grass or gravel areas. Planting vegetation at lower elevations than nearby hard surfaces allows runoff to seep into soil.
  9. Maintain septic systems properly. Have the septic tank cleaned out every three to five years. Effluent from failed or poorly maintained septic systems can contaminate groundwater. Monitoring and cleaning your system regularly also saves money by prolonging the life of the system.
  10. Maintaining Your Car

  11. Recycle used motor oil. Avoid pouring waste oil into gutters or down storm drains, and resist the temptation to dump wastes onto the ground. A single quart of motor oil that seeps into groundwater can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. If you don't have a place to recycle used motor oil in your community, ask your local sanitation or public works department to create one.* When you buy motor oil, ask if the store or service station has a program to buy back waste oil and dispose of it properly. Keep up with car maintenance to reduce leaking of oil, coolant, antifreeze and other hazardous fluids.
  12. Be "green" when washing your car. Hand-wash your car on the lawn with a bucket of soapy water, rags and a hose. Just turning off the hose between rinsings can save up to 150 gallons. Or, if you don't want to do it yourself, choose a car wash that recycles its water.
  13. In Your Community

  14. Help identify, report and stop polluters. Join a local clean water or environmental group that monitors industries and sewage treatment plants that are discharging wastes.** Local groups can be effective working together with state environmental agencies, EPA and national groups like NRDC to ensure that industries comply with regulations.
  15. Be an activist. Contact your public officials and attend hearings to encourage them to support laws and programs to protect our water. Ask officials to control polluted runoff, increase protection for wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems, reduce the flow of toxics into our waterways, and strengthen enforcement. Volunteer for a beach or stream clean up, tree planting, water quality sampling, or stream pollution monitoring project sponsored by a local environmental group or watershed council. Visit NRDC's Earth Action Center to get government contact information and learn about urgent issues you can get in involved in.

Take ACTion: Volunteer to Clean Up the Potomac River Waterfront

When: Saturday, October 16th, 9am – 11am
Where: Founders Park at 351 N. Union Street or Oronco Bay Park at 100 Madison Street

  • Meet and sign in at the SE corner of the park near the Boat Anchor.
  • Meet and sign in at the SE corner of the park off of Pendleton; by the sign.

What to Wear: be prepared to get dirty; trash bags and gloves will be provided.


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