Caring for our waterways

Waterways both fresh and saline are under assault around the world – making them unfit for humans to bathe in or drink from and destroying their life-giving capacity for aquatic organisms.

Whether it’s fertilizers, sewage, industrial chemical toxins or even pharmaceuticals – we’ve left our mark in just about every body of water on this planet.

While governments and big business must shoulder much of the responsibility, as individuals we can all play our part in preserving our precious waterways.

The following information has been adapted from some information Irene Haske from Fairfax County Virginia’s Stormwater Management department provided to me. Thanks Irene!

If you’re in Fairfax county and would like specific information or resources on any particular point, they have a ton of information available – you can call the Stormwater Management Division on 703-324-5500 or visit their site.

Absorb or use stormwater

A major contributor to stream degradation is through uncontrolled stormwater runoff. Water falling on areas such as roads and driveway picks up pollutants which often winds up in nearby streams. The sheer volume of runoff can also cause erosion, habitat loss and unstable stream banks.


– Create a rain garden or install rain barrels to capture some of the water that falls on your property that would otherwise wind up in stormwater drains.

– Reduce lawn areas and plant vegetation that will absorb more water than grass can.

Reduce fertilizer use

Fertilizer is often overused and the excess winds up in our waterways, leading to the explosive growth of algae, which then remove oxygen from the water as they die, creating dead zones where other organisms cannot survive.


– If you must fertilize, do so in the colder months. Fertilizing your lawn in during the warmer weather promotes blade rather than root growth, which just means more mowing for you.

– Use a soil test kit, available from most garden stores, to determine if your lawn actually needs fertilizing and what type of fertilizer it requires.

Clean up after pets

Waste left on the ground washes into streams and contributes to the high levels of fecal coliform bacteria found in streams.


– Pet waste should be placed in the trash or flushed down the toilet as it will then be treated.

– You can also set up a doggy loo or a  worm farm to process the waste.

Properly dispose of chemicals, waste and oil

Did you know a quart of oil can contaminate 2 millions gallons of water? On a smaller scale and for metric talkin’ folks, a single drop of oil can pollute 2 liters of water. Other chemicals can directly poison fish and plants and trash can clog up stormwater drains, causing flooding.


– Stormwater drains are for water only, the effluent isn’t treated, so don’t flush anything else down them.

– Take toxic chemicals to hazardouse waste depots

– Pool water should be treated to remove chemicals and add oxygen before flushing

Be a responsible car owner

Washing your car in your driveway allows for the sudsy water to run into a stormwater drain and ultimately into a waterway. The chemicals in washes can either directly poison aquatic organisms or promote the growth of algae that will starve the water of oxygen.

A car that leaks oil and other fluids will contribute to pollution as the fluids will wash off the roads and into the drains.


– Wash your car on the grass

– Better still, take it to a commercial car wash on one of your trips. Most commercial car washes recycle water and treat it to remove harmful chemicals.

– Ensure your car is serviced regularly and check for leaks yourself on a regular basis

Help maintain a stream buffer

Also known as riparian buffers, stream buffers are areas of dense vegetation along the side of a waterway that act as filters for storm runoff, help regulate water temperature, provide habitat and prevent erosion


– Contact your local environmental group about participating in stream buffer maintenance and planting projects

Become a stream monitor

Most local government environmental departments are spread so thin, they can’t be watching all the waterways all the time. Early action on pollutant spills or waste dumping incidents is crucial to maintaining the integrity of a waterways. The observation of aquatic organism activity can also act as an early warning system to problems occurring.


– Again, contact your local environmental groups and see what you can do in terms of clean up projects or general waterway monitoring.

It’s all simple stuff we can do, but so important to preserving our waterways for our own health and safety, for the sake of the plants and animals that live in and around them, and for future generations to come.