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How Simple Home Improvements can Reduce Water Pollution

It may seem as though everything flourishes after a rainfall. Grass, flowers, and trees appear revitalized, cars shine, and the sidewalks and roads, once grimy with dust and oil stains are cleaned. However, this seemingly clean sight may have had negative environmental consequences.

Stormwater Runoff

When it rains, debris, oil, trash, litter, soot, grease, and pesticides that once covered the roads, sidewalks, rooftops and lawns have not just vanished - they have been washed away, into the sewers, through underground pipes, into a nearby lake, river, or bay. This occurrence is referred to as urban stormwater runoff which Environment Canada calls a "significant environmental detriment". Stormwater runoff occurs when it rains, when snow melts, or when any form of precipitation comes into contact with the ground or any other hard surface.
Through the natural cycle of water, precipitation should seep into the ground, get absorbed by soil and vegetation, and evaporate back into the atmosphere. However, as a result of mass development in urban areas, stormwater can no longer reach the soil, and instead runs off hard surfaces (such as buildings, sidewalks, and roads) into storm sewers, taking with it any contaminants in its path. The result is polluted water resources, which in turn affects public health, recreation, biodiversity, economic activity, and general public well-being.

Many of us contribute to polluted urban runoff, often without realizing it. Follow these simple steps to reduce the amount of pollutants that enter our waters and help maintain the natural water cycle.

Reducing Runoff Pollution

Reducing urban runoff is half the battle - the other half is keeping contaminants out of stormwater paths. With simple changes, we can reduce the contaminants that get washed into sewers such as litter, debris, oil, and pesticides. For lawns and gardens, use non-toxic fertilizers instead of chemical-based ones, or try composting.Composting decreases the need for fertilizer and helps soil retain moisture. In your home, always ensure chemical-based products, such as cleaning supplies, are stored, used, and disposed of safely or alternatively, consider switching to non-toxic products. In the winter months, avoid excess use of road salts and always ensure your vehicle is properly maintained so there is no oil leaking onto the streets. And finally, never litter or pour anything down sewer drains.

Reducing Urban Runoff

Reducing urban runoff refers to decreasing the amount of water that enters storm sewers. One effective solution is using a rain barrel. Rain barrels capture rainwater from your roof, preventing it from running onto impervious surfaces and into a sewer. In addition to reducing urban runoff, using captured rainwater can decrease the strain on your municipal water system and save you money as it provides free water to use for activities such as lawn and garden watering and car washes. If a rain barrel is not feasible, redirect eaves troughs and downspouts to soil, grass, or gravel areas so water is absorbed into the earth, rather than onto pavement. There are a variety of options for diverting rainwater from your roof, one of which is disconnecting your downspout from the sewer system. For instructions on how to disconnect your downspout, follow the directions from The City of Toronto, the first city in Canada to roll out a mandatory downspout disconnection by-law.

Another at-home solution to reduce urban runoff is to decrease impervious surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, around your house by replacing these areas with landscaping or more porous materials. Consider landscaping with vegetation, creating a wood deck, or using interlocking bricks and paver stones for walkways instead of concrete. These changes can reduce water runoff by improving drainage.

We can all play a role in improving water quality with these simple home improvements. Water is our most precious resource, so let's work together to protect it.

Natural Resources Defense Council
Environment Canada