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Frequently Asked Questions 
   Ours to Protect

1.What is causing our lakes and streams to be polluted?
  Numerous sources of water pollution that have come under control the last 25 years. However, stormwater runoff is mostly untreated and is now a      significant source of pollution. Stormwater runoff occurs when rainfall or snowmelt runs over land — picking up pollutants along the way — and deposits the polluted runoff in our lakes and streams. This is a concern in Southeast Michigan and other areas of the country. It will continue to be a challenge as our region develops. This is largely due to the growth of impervious surfaces, for example, roads, parking lots, rooftops, and buildings. Increased impervious surface adds to the amount and rate of pollutants in our stormwater. Developing communities and older communities alike are challenged with reducing these stormwater impacts to protect Southeast Michigan's valuable water resources. 

2. What is the Southeast Michigan Partners for Clean Water?
SEMCOG facilitates the Southeast Michigan Partners for Clean Water. This partnership was formed to engage the public in activities that protect our water resources through continued awareness, knowledge, and action. The partners include representatives from SEMCOG, various counties, communities, watershed councils, the private sector, and water quality professionals in Southeast Michigan.

3. Why are we initiating this public education campaign?
The goal of this campaign is to protect and restore Southeast Michigan’s water resources. Many pollutant sources are controlled through various laws and regulations. However, pollution from stormwater runoff continues to threaten
our resources. The impacts of stormwater runoff will be reduced if residents participate in some easy action steps. This campaign identifies those simple actions residents can take to protect our water resources. Individual actions will
cumulatively make a difference. A recent SEMCOG survey found that only 31 percent of respondents were satisfied with the quality of the region's lakes and streams. At the same time, this survey also found that residents are willing to take action to protect water resources. Nearly 75 percent expressed a willingness to do such activities as recycle hazardous wastes and change fertilizer and car washing practices.

4. What else is being done to address stormwater pollution?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) requires that municipalities and other public bodies that operate a separate stormwater drainage system obtain a permit. The regulations require communities to improve the quality of their stormwater and, ultimately, protect Michigan’s water resources. This permit program affects over 170 communities in Southeast Michigan and is administered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). In any case, voluntary action by the region’s citizens is an efficient way to keep some pollution from ever entering our waterways.

5. Why does water quality matter?
Clean water has very important quality-of-life implications. It is necessary to sustain human, animal, and plant species. Protecting the chemical and physical integrity of our water resources is critical to a safe municipal water supply, agriculture, industry, and recreational activities. With over 300,000 boaters and 3.5 million people visiting local parks, Southeast Michigan's recreation industry depends on clean water. The rivers and streams that run through our neighborhoods all drain to the very same water system that is the source of drinking water for nearly five million residents.

6. How can individuals make a difference?
There are two key ways each of us can make a difference in improving Southeast Michigan’s water resources. First, we can adjust some habits around the house. Yard care, car care, household waste disposal, and pet waste disposal are examples where small changes can help protect the environment. It is important for us to understand that simple changes contribute to cleaner water in the region that, in turn, enhances the quality of life for everyone. Second, we can get involved in local efforts. Individual and collective efforts will help protect the quality of our valuable water resources. Many organizations in Southeast Michigan are actively working to protect and preserve our water resources. A number of volunteer groups provide opportunities for those dedicated to water cleanup and protection, such as river and stream cleanups and monitoring efforts.

7. What is SEMCOG's role in water quality in Southeast Michigan?
SEMCOG is a membership organization of local governments helping solve regional issues that extend beyond individual governmental boundaries. We advocate for the good of Southeast Michigan and its citizens, and the wise use of taxpayer dollars. SEMCOG represents over 150 local governments in Southeast Michigan and has some federal responsibilities under the Clean Water Act. A few years ago, SEMCOG published the Water Quality Management Plan for Southeast Michigan. It focuses on restoring and maintaining the designated uses for surface waters and advocates for a regional approach to protect water quality. One of the goals is to develop educational programs that promote voluntary pollution prevention actions which reduce or eliminate pollutants at their source, and that promote stewardship of our water resources by citizens, government, and business.

8. How is SEMCOG encouraging residents to help keep our water clean?
We're promoting the Seven Simple Steps to Clean Water.

  1. Help keep pollution out of storm drains.
  2. Fertilize sparingly and caringly.
  3. Carefully store and dispose of household cleaners, chemicals, and oil.
  4. Clean up after your pet.
  5. Practice good car care.
  6. Choose earth friendly landscaping.
  7. Save water.

9. What is a watershed? 
A watershed is another word for a river basin. It is all the land that drains to a common body of water, such as a river, lake, or stream. What watershed do you live in? View a map.

10. What is stormwater?
Stormwater is the rainfall or snowmelt that flows over our yards, streets, parking lots, and buildings and either enters the storm drain system or runs directly into a lake or stream.

11. What is a storm drain?
Storm drains are the openings you see along curbs and in streets and parking lots. They carry away rainwater and snowmelt and transport it through the system to nearby lakes and streams. Water and other debris that enter storm drains do not go to a treatment facility.

12. What is a sanitary sewer?
A sanitary sewer takes household water and waste from toilets, sinks and showers, and transports it to a wastewater treatment facility. There, the water is treated and then discharged back to a river, lake, or stream.

13. How does stormwater get polluted?
As stormwater flows over our lawns and driveways, it picks up fertilizers, oil, chemicals, grass clippings, litter, pet waste, and anything else in its path. The storm drain system then transports these pollutants, now in the water, to local lakes and streams. Anything that goes into a storm drain eventually ends up in a river, lake, or stream.

14. What is the Water Cycle?
Did you know that the water that early settlers explored and dinosaurs drank, is the same water we use today? No new water is made! Water simply goes through a form of recycling in what is called the Water Cycle. In the Water Cycle, water goes through changes that make it liquid and vapor over and over again! Here is how the water cycle works. The sun's heat provides energy to evaporate water from the Earth's surface (oceans, lakes, and streams). Plants also lose water to the air (this is called transpiration). The water vapor condenses into tiny droplets forming clouds. When the clouds get heavy with this vapor, water falls to earth in the form of precipitation (rain, snow, hail, or sleet). Some of the precipitation soaks into the ground. Some of this underground water is trapped between rock or clay layers. This is called groundwater. Most of the water, though, flows downhill, eventually flowing back to oceans and lakes.