For most, water pollution brings to mind images of industrial drainage pipes emptying questionable liquids into a river or stream. These sources of pollution however, are regulated and permitted today, allowing authorities to properly manage them.
Other sources of water pollution, called non-point sources because they cannot usually be “mapped” or anticipated, can be just as damaging to water resources. Even more, non-point sources are often controllable, and in many ways are products of daily modern living.
Runoff is a term almost always associated with non-point source water pollution. It occurs when water drains from, or runs off, various surfaces, carrying other substances into rivers, lakes, streams or the ocean. A particular problem after heavy rains, runoff pollutes water with sediments, fertilizers, oils, chemicals and a variety of substances that are regularly spilled on or applied to fields, lawns, concrete, parking lots, driveways, city streets, rural roads, and other areas.
While newer regulations and approaches to pollution abatement are beginning to address larger non-point pollution sources like runoff from large animal operations and land development, there are numerous potential contaminants that could be reduced significantly if enough people made some simple changes. For instance:
Gardeners. Flower and vegetable gardening is a common and popular hobby. Many green thumbs use various fertilizers to encourage their plantings to flourish. However, chemical fertilizer application instructions can be difficult to follow, often causing gardeners to over apply. Insecticides and herbicides applied to control pests can be similarly confusing to use. Excess fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and the like regularly runoff from soils, eventually turning up in waterways. Gardeners can help improve water quality by ensuring they use such materials correctly, minimizing their use, switching to more natural alternatives, or eliminating them altogether.
Drivers. Another common form of non-point source pollution is vehicle fluids. Gasoline is commonly spilled when drivers are filling up their tanks or various containers. Oils, anti-freeze and other automotive liquids are also commonly spilled at garages and body shops, on concrete surfaces, in driveways, etc. Many vehicles that are not properly maintained also leak fluids, particularly on roadways, bridges and overpasses when idling in traffic. Vehicle owners, car enthusiasts and mechanics can do their part by properly maintaining their vehicles, and carefully handling automotive fluids to avoid spills.
Homeowners. Maintaining property and homes can include the use of various chemicals, solvents and cleaners. Homeowners should be sure to carefully handle such items around their homes and yards to avoid spills. Additionally, such items should never be disposed of directly to the ground, say in a wooded area, or to a local stream or creek. Hard to dispose of items should be saved for a local household hazardous waste collection event. Sometimes, in and around our homes the simplest of chores can lead to runoff and potential waterways pollution. Washing a car in the driveway, power washing a deck or patio, or just hosing off the sideway can carry fuel oils, cleaners, soaps, sediments, gasoline and other contaminants into storm sewers, and eventually into rivers, lake and other water resources.
In addition to polluting water resources and impacting aquatic ecosystems, non-point source pollution can be a danger to children, pets and adults before it washes into a river, lake or stream. Careful handling and attention to the use of household, gardening and automotive chemicals and fluids can help to reduce polluting runoff and improve water quality.