7 Simple Steps to Clean Water

Did you know we all live on a lake or stream? It’s true – 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. So it’s important to remember that what we do at home affects our rivers and lakes!

1. Help keep pollution out of our drains

Storm drains lead directly to our lakes and streams. So, any oil, pet waste, leaves, or dirty water from washing your car that enters a storm drain gets into our lakes and streams. With almost five million people living in Southeast Michigan, we all need to be aware of what goes into our storm drains. Remember, only rain in the drain!

What are some helpful tips?
Here are some simple steps you can take to help keep pollutants out of storm drains and keep our water clean. Give them a try. A few simple changes can make a big difference!

Sweep it.
Do you have extra fertilizer, grass clippings, or dirt on your driveway? Sweep it back onto your lawn. Hosing your driveway sends these pollutants into storm drains that lead to our lakes and streams.

Keep it clean.
Whether in the street or in your yard, remember to keep leaves, grass clippings, trash, and fertilizers out of storm drains.

Only rain in the drain.
Never dump motor oil, chemicals, pet waste, dirty or soapy water, or anything else down the storm drain. All of these materials pollute our lakes and streams.

Label it.
Volunteer to label storm drains in your neighborhood to inform residents that storm drains flow directly to our lakes and streams. Encourage citizens to contact their local community for more information on storm drain stenciling programs.

View Stormdrain Poster

2. Fertilize sparingly and caringly

What’s the issue?
Proper fertilization is important for a healthy lawn. When fertilizer is put down at the right time and in the right way, it strengthens lawns. A healthy lawn protects water by holding soil and pollutants and minimizing the need for pesticides.

Improper fertilization (e.g., leaving fertilizer on paved surfaces, using improper type, applying on frozen ground) harms our water. Improper fertilization causes it to get into storm drains in streets, which empty into lakes and rivers. Fertilizer in lakes and rivers causes algae to grow, which uses oxygen that fish need.

What can you do?
Here are some simple steps you can take to help keep our water clean. Give them a try. A few simple changes can make a big difference! Plus, you’ll save time and money in the process.

Fertilize in the fall.
Want a vibrant spring lawn? Fertilize in the fall. Fall is the best time for plants to absorb nutrients and develop a strong root system.

Be patient in the spring.
No need to hurry — fertilizer you put down in the fall is at work. Wait until the second mowing before adding fertilizer. Then you can be sure the ground isn’t frozen and the grass can properly use the fertilizer.

Keep it on the lawn.
Keep fertilizer on the lawn. If you do get it on the pavement, sweep it back onto the lawn.

Light, frequent watering.
The amount of water used is based on the desired look and use for your lawn. If you water, consider light, frequent watering. Cool the grass with shorter periods of light water during the hotter parts of the day.

Use a fertilizer meant for the lawn.
Some fertilizers are meant for more than lawns (“all purpose” or “lawn and garden”). These contain too much phosphorus (often displayed as 10-10-10 on the bag) Use a lawn fertilizer with Nitrogen (N) to Phosphorus ratio (P) of 5 to 1, or greater.

Follow directions.
Use a spreader and follow directions. This ensures that the right amount of fertilizer is being used.

Mow high and return clippings.
Make your lawn care cheaper and easier by mowing high (3 inches) and leave the clippings for nutrients. A tall lawn promotes root growth and shades out weeds.

Make fertilizer-free zones.
Keep distance between fertilizer and areas such as rivers, lakes, or storm drains. This will protect these areas from unnecessary fertilizer.

View Fertilizer Poster

3. Carefully store and dispose of household cleaners, chemicals, and oil

What’s the issue?
Antifreeze, household cleaners, gasoline, pesticides, oil paints, solvents, and motor oil are just some of the common household products that can enter our storm drains. Help keep these out of our lakes and streams. Instead of putting these items in the trash, down the storm drain, or on the ground, take them to a local hazardous waste center or collection day.

What are some helpful tips?
Here are some simple steps you can take to carefully dispose of household wastes and help keep our water clean. Give them a try. A few simple changes can make a big difference!

Identify it.
Be aware of household products that can harm children, pets, and the environment. The words “danger,” “caution,” “warning,” or “toxic” indicate that you need to be careful in how you use and dispose of the product.

Less is better.
Reduce waste and save money by purchasing only the materials you need. When possible, choose less toxic alternatives. For example, try cleaning your windows with vinegar and water.

Store properly.
Keep unused products in their original containers with labels intact. Select cool, dry storage areas that are away from children, pets, and wildlife.

Disposal is key.
Never dump motor oil, chemicals, and other toxic materials down storm drains, sinks, or on the ground. Contact your local community for disposal locations, guidelines, and dates.

Don’t forget the RV.
Dispose of recreational vehicle sanitary waste at a nearby drop-off location. Never put it down a storm drain or roadside ditch! Click here for more information on locations and requirements.

View Household Tips Poster

4. Clean up after your pet

What’s the issue?
Most of us pick up after our pets to be a good neighbor and to keep our yard clean. But there’s another important reason. Pet waste contains bacteria that are harmful to us and our water. Leaving it on the sidewalk or lawn means harmful bacteria will be transported into the storm drains and then into our lakes and streams.

What are some helpful tips?
Here are some simple steps you can take to carefully dispose of pet waste and help keep our water clean. Give them a try. A few simple changes can make a big difference!

Dispose of it promptly and properly.
Whether in your yard or on a walk, promptly dispose of your pet’s waste in the trash or down the toilet where it will be properly treated. When pet waste is left behind, it washes into storm drains and ditches. From there it heads straight to your local lakes and streams taking harmful bacteria with it.

Watch instead of feeding.
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 our parks and lakes. Waterfowl waste can pollute our water with harmful bacteria.

Spread the word.
Tell others how they can help protect our lakes and streams. Also, work cooperatively with your local government to install signs, bag dispensers, and trash cans in convenient public places to remind visitors to clean up after their pets.

View Pet Care Poster

5. Practice good car care

What’s the issue?
Did you know there are over four million vehicles in Southeast Michigan? So, practicing good car care means you are helping protect our lakes and streams. How does caring for your car affect our lakes and streams? Storm drains found in our streets, and roadside ditches lead to our lakes and streams. So, if dirty water from washing our cars washes into the storm drain, it pollutes our local waterways. Likewise, if your vehicle leaks motor fluids on the street or driveway, that too, can wash into the storm drain and pollute our local waterways.

What are some helpful tips?
Here are some simple steps you can take to care for your car and help keep our water clean. Give them a try. A few simple changes can make a big difference!

Make a date.
Car-wash facilities treat their dirty water before discharging it to our lakes and streams. So, make a date to take your car to a car wash.

Wash it – on the grass.
If you wash your car at home, consider washing it on the lawn. Or, if you can’t use the lawn, try to direct the dirty water towards the lawn and away from the storm drain.

Minimize it.
Reduce the amount of soap you use or wash your car with plain water.

Maintain it.
Keep your vehicle properly tuned and use the owner’s manual to guide decisions about how often it is necessary to change fluids such as oil and antifreeze.

Take advantage of business expertise.
Consider taking your vehicle to the shop to have the oil and other fluids changed. These businesses have the ability to recycle the used materials and clean up accidental spills.

Recycle.
If you choose to change your oil and other fluids yourself, label the waste containers. Then, take them to your community’s household hazardous waste collection day or to a business that accepts used oil. Never dump used oil, antifreeze, or other fluids on the ground or down the storm drain.

Soak it up.
Use kitty litter promptly to absorb small amounts of spilled vehicle fluids. Then sweep it into a bag and throw it in the trash.

Do it under cover.
Whenever possible, perform vehicle maintenance in a well-ventilated, but covered location (e.g., garage). This minimizes the potential for rainfall to wash those inevitable spills and drips into our lakes and streams.

View Care Care Poster

6. Choose earth friendly landscape

What’s the issue?
When landscaping your yard you can protect your kids, pets, and the environment from harm. By choosing plants that are native to Michigan and by practicing good lawn-care practices, you can help prevent pollution of our lakes and streams.

What are some helpful tips?
Here are some simple steps you can take to landscape and maintain a healthy yard and help keep our water clean. Give them a try. A few simple changes can make a big difference!

Mow high.
Make your lawn cheaper and easier to maintain by mowing high (three inches is recommended). Taller grass requires less water, promotes root growth, and shades out weeds.

Use mulch.
Place a thick layer of mulch (e.g., four inches) around trees and plants. This helps retain water, reduce weeds, and minimize the need for pesticides.

Go native.
Select plants native to Michigan. Native plants are better equipped to tolerate Michigan’s climate, require less fertilizing, and are more disease resistant.

What plants are native to Michigan?

  • Black-eyed Susan, Coral bells, Purple coneflower, and Columbine;
  • Blueberry and raspberry bushes;
  • Christmas, Lady, and Maidenhair ferns;
  • Black walnut, Hickory, Douglas fir, and White pine trees.

All can be found in local nurseries and greenhouses.

Variety is the spice of life.
Using a wide variety of plants helps control pests and minimizes the need for pesticides.

Water wisely.
Generally, your lawn needs about an inch of water a week. Over-watering lawns results in shallow-rooted plants that are less tolerant of heat and drought, and more prone to disease. Avoid over-watering by using a rain gauge and watering only when necessary, instead of on a fixed schedule.

Use less for pests.
Pesticides and herbicides can be harmful to our kids, pets, and the environment. So, use pesticides and herbicides sparingly. Limit applications to problem areas instead of applying to the entire area (e.g., weed and feed).

Rake it or leave it.
Follow the guidelines in your community for leaf pick-up. Never rake leaves into or near storm drains, ditches, or streams. Decaying leaves use up the water’s oxygen, harming fish and the aquatic insects that fish depend on to survive. Better yet, mow leaves into your lawn. Leaves and grass clippings are good fertilizers for your lawn.

View Poster

7. Save water

Did you know that individually we use about 77 gallons of water each day? When we overwater our lawns, that process can easily carry pollution to the storm drains and then to our lakes and streams. By using less water on our lawns we can help prevent some of this pollution. And remember, saving water also saves money!

What are some helpful tips?
Here are some simple steps you can take use less water to maintain a healthy lawn and help keep our water clean. Give them a try. A few simple changes can make a big difference!

Water wisely.
Generally, your lawn needs about an inch of water a week. Overwatering lawns results in shallow-rooted plants that are less tolerant of heat and drought, and more prone to disease. Avoid overwatering by using a rain gauge and watering only when necessary, instead of on a fixed schedule.

Improve your aim.
Adjust your sprinklers to water only your lawn and plants – not your driveway, sidewalk, or street.

Use mulch.
Place a thick layer of mulch (e.g., four inches) around trees and plants. This helps retain water, reduce weeds, and minimize the need for pesticides.

Sweep it.
Clean sidewalks and driveways with a broom, instead of a hose. You’ll save water and keep unwanted pollutants out of the storm drain.

Put rainwater to work.
Use rainwater to water your plants. Direct downspouts toward your plants and green areas or collect water with rain barrels for use later.

Mow high.
Make your lawn cheaper and easier to maintain by mowing high (three inches is recommended). Longer grass has deeper roots and requires less water.

View Save Water Poster

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