Out on vacation everyone loves sending a picture postcard of a pristine mountain lake to a friend with an inscription like, “Having a great time. Wish you were here.”
But most of the country’s lakes aren’t in picture postcard condition. Forty-six percent are polluted to the point where they’re unsafe for fishing, swimming or supporting normal aquatic life. The story’s just about the same for our rivers: 40 percent are polluted and unsafe for fishing, swimming or aquatic life.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that everyone—even those of us who aren’t living on lake front or river front property—can do things that improve our water quality. All you need to do is follow these 7 ways to help keep lakes and rivers clean and pollutant free.
1. Use less water
One of the biggest threats to water quality comes from aging infrastructure. Cities across the nation are dealing with sewer systems that are literally falling apart. In some places these systems date back to the time of the Civil War. Every time you flush your toilet or leave the water running while you’re brushing your teeth, it increases the load on your sewer system. Conserve water. It also lowers the burden on sewage treatment plants.
2. Keep your car repaired
We all see those oil spots on driveways and parking lots. When oil leaks from our cars it is eventually sent down storm drains and ends up in the watershed. If your car has sprung an oil leak, get it fixed. Also, be careful while adding oil and make sure any used oil is properly recycled.
3. Use organic gardening techniques
In the same way that dripping automotive oil ends up in the watershed, so does a large amount of the fertilizers and pesticides you use in your garden. This causes rivers and lakes to get a huge dose of nitrogen which makes algae grow abnormally. The chemistry of our freshwater lakes and streams gets totally out of whack and fish kills are common, along with a host of other problems. Go with natural fertilizers and bug killers and even then, stick to the directions and make sure you aren’t overusing or applying on days when they are likely to be quickly washed away by rain.
4. Compost and contain yard waste
Sending bushels of grass clippings down the storm drain isn’t all that unlike dumping fertilizer down the drain. Nature hasn’t designed rivers to be suburbia’s yard waste receptacle. Too much organic material clogs streams and when it breaks down, it can upset up the water chemistry. Compost yard waste and make sure it’s in bins so it doesn’t wash away during a heavy rain.
5. Deal with household chemicals and medicines properly
Your local environmental health agency, garbage hauler or solid waste department probably has drop-off locations or specially scheduled pickups for toxic household chemicals, like solvents, motor oil and paint. Do a little research and plug into the system. Also, don’t flush unused medicines down the toilet. These are starting to turn up in local drinking water supplies. Find the best way to dispose of them locally. Also, use natural cleaning products around the house.
6. Go sustainable
Individuals can accomplish a lot by doing their personal best to keep our rivers and lakes clean and pollutant free, however, the biggest problems are with industry and agriculture. Frequent your local farmer’s market and find organic farmers. Doing business with them helps keep fertilizers and pesticides out of the environment and it also reduces the need to truck food over long distances, which reduces all the pollution associated with transportation. Also, many areas are allowing households to buy their electricity from sustainable sources. If you live in an area where the utilities burn coal, switch to a green energy supplier. It will reduce acid rain, which is one of our biggest problems.
7. Don’t litter
Perhaps we shouldn’t have to remind folks not to litter, but still some people haven’t gotten the message. Go to any river or lake popular with fishermen and you’ll find plastic wrappers from lures and bait at the water’s edge. And, if you litter in your neighborhood, it will make its way to a storm drain and get into our streams, lakes and eventually into the ocean. Finally, why not take it a step further and volunteer for a river or lake cleanup day project?