While many of us think first of industries dumping chemicals as the source of water pollution, the truth is our water can also be harmed by things that we do every day at our homes. When it rains, water washes over lawns, sidewalks, and streets. In addition to litter, this water picks up chemicals found in lawn fertilizers, bacteria found in pet waste, and oil from cars. This polluted water then enters roadside ditches and the storm drains found in our streets, and large pipes connect the storm drains to the closest lake or stream.

We all live on a lake or stream. We might not be able to see it from our window, but it’s there. It might be a small stream or ditch or even the storm drain in the street. All of these lead to a river or lake. 

Here are some tips for what you can do to protect our waterways:

What You Can Do About Pet Care

Click to download print-ready tip cardNot only can animal waste left on the ground be awful if stepped on, but when it rains harmful bacteria are carried to our waterways. 

Help keep our rivers, lakes, and beaches clean

How can I keep harmful bacteria out of our lakes, rivers, and beaches?

  • Dispose of it promptly and properly
    • Whether in your yard or on a walk, promptly dispose of your pet’s waste in the trash.
  • Pick up before lawn watering
    • Pick up after your pets before watering your yard or cleaning patios or driveways. Don’t use a hose to clean pet waste off driveways or sidewalks.
  • Share the message
      • When at a dog park, community meeting, or talking with your friends, spread the word about the positive impact picking up after your pet can have on water quality.
    • Don't treat ducks or geese as pets
      • Feeding ducks and geese may seem harmless but, in fact, can be a nuisance to people and harmful to our water. Feeding waterfowl causes them to become dependent on humans. This, in turn, creates unnaturally high populations and problems in parks and lakes. Waterfowl waste can pollute our water with harmful bacteria.

    What You Can Do About Car Care

    Click to download print-ready tip cardDirty water from car washing, leaky motor oil, and gasoline can wash from our driveways and roads into the storm drain or roadside ditch.

    Help keep our rivers, lakes, and beaches clean


    Which car care practices can be harmful?

    • Washing your car in the driveway or on the street sends polluted wash water into waterways.
    • Allowing continuous fluid leaks onto your driveway or street from your vehicle sends hazardous pollution into waterways.


    How can I wash my car without harming our waterways?

    • Wash your car on the grass
      • Washing your car and dumping wash water on the lawn allows the ground to filter wash water naturally.
    • Host car wash fundraisers at the car wash
      • Commercial car washes are required to send wash water into the sanitary sewer where it can be properly treated. 


    How can I practice car care without harming our waterways?

    • Take your car to the shop for maintenance
      • Service centers have the ability to recycle used fluids and properly clean up accidental spills.
    • Safely dispose of used fluids if you change them yourself
      • Take your used oil, antifreeze, or other fluids to your community’s household hazardous waste collection day or to a business that accepts them. Never dump these fluids down the storm drain.
    • Stop drips
      • Prevent fluid leaks from reaching paved surfaces. Check for leaks regularly and fix them promptly. Use ground cloths or drip pans to capture leaks until you can get them fixed.

    What You Can Do About Lawn Care

    Fertilizer and grass clippings easily find their way into drains, which can lead to algae blooms in rivers and lakes.

    Help keep our rivers, lakes, and beaches clean

    How can I grow a green lawn while protecting our lakes, rivers, and beaches?

    • Keep fertilizer and lawn clippings on the lawn
      • Sweep or blow fertilizer and grass clippings back onto the lawn and not into the street to prevent them from getting into storm drains and ditches, which can cause algae problems. Don’t dump lawn clippings into drains or ditches.
    • Mow high and leave the clippings
      • Set your mower deck high (three inches) to establish strong, healthy roots and shade out weeds. 
      • Leave clippings on your lawn to return nutrients to the soil. 
    • Fertilize in the fall
      • Fall is the best time for plants to absorb nutrients and develop a strong root system.
    • Hire a knowledgeable contractor
    • Create fertilizer-free zones
      • Keep a 15-foot buffer along waterfronts in your yard by not fertilizing or just letting the grass grow. A buffer helps to keep grass clippings and fertilizer from getting into the water and causing algae problems. A buffer can also help discourage geese.
    • Reduce your lawn area
      • Making your lawn smaller by creating more planting areas with native plants will help infiltrate more water and reduce the amount getting into storm drains.

     

    What You Can Do With Landscaping

    The chemicals in herbicides and pesticides pollute our waterways if washed from lawns and gardens into storm drains and roadside ditches.

    Help keep our rivers, lakes, and beaches clean

    How can I maintain my lawn and garden while protecting our waterways?

    • Go native
      • Select plants native to Michigan. Native plants are better able to tolerate Michigan’s climate, require less fertilizer and water, and are more disease resistant.
    • Plant a rain garden
      • Use native plants in low areas where rainwater collects in your yard to trap, absorb, and filter stormwater.
    • Diversify your plantings
      • Use a wide variety of plants to help control pests and minimize the need for pesticides.
    • Place a thick layer of mulch (four inches) around trees and plants 
      • This helps retain water, reduce weeds, and minimizes the need for pesticides.
    • Plant a tree
      • Trees can provide many benefits, such as soaking up water, that improve the environment and quality of life in your community. A typical, medium-sized tree can capture 2,380 gallons of rainwater 
        per year.
    • Rake it or leave it
      • Follow your community’s leaf pick-up guidelines. Avoid raking leaves into storm drains or roadside ditches. Try mowing leaves into your lawn—they also make a good fertilizer!
    • Use pesticides and herbicides sparingly
      • Limit application of these chemicals to problem areas only.
    • Capture the rain
        • Use a rain barrel to water your plants. Don't forget to empty it when it's full.

      What You Can Do About Storm Drains

      Everything that goes down a storm drain flows into our lakes and streams. 

      Help keep our rivers, lakes, and beaches clean

      What can I do to keep rainwater from carrying hazardous materials down a storm drain?

      • Sweep extra fertilizer, grass clippings, and dirt on your driveway back onto your lawn
        • Hosing down your driveway sends these pollutants into storm drains that lead to lakes, streams, and beaches.
      • Only allow rain to go down the drain
        • Never dump motor oil, chemicals, pet waste, leaves, dirty or soapy water, or anything else down the storm drain. All of these materials pollute our lakes and streams.
      • Label your storm drains
        • Volunteer to label storm drains in your neighborhood to inform residents that storm drains flow directly to lakes and streams.
        • Contact your local community for more information on storm drain labeling programs.

      What You Can Do With Household Hazardous Waste

      What's under our kitchen sink or in the garage can be hazardous to people and our water.

      Help keep our rivers, lakes, and beaches clean

      Which products are hazardous?

      • Automotive: Oil, transmission fluid, gasoline/diesel fuel
      • Home improvement: Oil-based products, glue, rust remover
      • Pesticides/weed killers
      • Cleaners: Tub and tile, oven
      • Other: nail polish, hair relaxer, mercury thermometer, alcohol-based lotion, prescription medication, aerosol cans
      • Get more information


      How do I store my products?

      • Keep unused products in their original containers with their label intact.
      • Keep all lids and caps on and tightly closed. Store products inside dry, cool areas, away from kids and pets. 
      • Only buy what you need and maintain a small inventory.


      How do I dispose of my products?

      • Never dump household hazardous waste down storm drains, sinks, or on the ground. Take them to a recycling location.
      • Contact your local community or county for household hazardous waste collection options.


      What alternatives can I use?

      • Try using baking soda, white vinegar, and essential oils when cleaning your house. For example, sprinkle baking soda and vacuum to clean carpets. Spraying vinegar water is an easy way to clean windows.
      • Contact your local community or county for household hazard


       

      Developing Regional Solutions
      SEMCOG is a regional planning partnership of governmental units serving 4.7 million people in the seven-county region of Southeast Michigan striving to enhance the region's quality of life.