12 Simple Things You Can Do To Reduce Water Pollution

12 Simple Things You Can Do To Reduce Water Pollution

Dirty water is the world’s biggest health risk, and continues to threaten both quality of life and public health in the United States. When water from rain and melting snow runs off roofs and roads into our rivers, it picks up toxic chemicals, dirt, trash and disease-carrying organisms along the way. Many of our water resources also lack basic protections, making them vulnerable to pollution from factory farms, industrial plants, and activities like fracking. This can lead to drinking water contamination, habitat degradation and beach closures. NRDC is working to protect our water from pollution by:

  • Drawing on existing protections in the Clean Water Act, and working to ensure that the law’s pollution control programs apply to all important waterways, including headwater streams and wetlands, which provide drinking water for 117 million Americans;
  • Improving protections to reduce pollutants like bacteria and viruses, which threaten Americans’ health and well being; and
  • Establishing new pollution limits for top problem areas, such as sources of runoff and sewage overflows.

How to Clean Up Our Water – 12 simple ways you can help stem the tide of polluted runoff.

Everyday household activities are a major contributor to polluted runoff, which is among the most serious sources of water contamination. When it rains, fertilizer from lawns, oil from driveways, paint and solvent residues from walls and decks and even waste from pet Fido are all washed into storm sewers or nearby lakes, rivers and streams — the same lakes, rivers and streams we rely on for drinking, bathing, swimming and fishing. Here are some ways you can help reduce polluted runoff.

In Your Home:

1. Correctly dispose of hazardous household products. Keep paints, used oil, cleaning solvents, polishes, pool chemicals, insecticides, and other hazardous household chemicals out of drains, sinks, and toilets. Many of these products contain harmful substances — such as sodium hypochlorite, petroleum distillates, phenol and cresol, ammonia and formaldehyde — that can end up in nearby water bodies. Contact your local sanitation, public works, or environmental health department to find out about hazardous waste collection days and sites.* If a local program isn’t available, request one.

2. Use nontoxic household products whenever possible. Discarding toxic products correctly is important, but not buying them in the first place is better. Ask local stores to carry nontoxic products if they don’t already. For examples of safe substitutes for toxic household products, check EPA’s EnviroSense website.

3. Recycle and dispose of all trash properly. Never flush non-degradable products — such as disposable diapers or plastic tampon applicators — down the toilet. They can damage the sewage treatment process and end up littering beaches and waters.

4. Conserve water. Use the most efficient plumbing fixtures. A whopping 73 percent of the water you use in your home is either flushed down the toilet or washed down the shower drain. Toilet dams or bricks placed in your toilet tank can save four gallons of water per flush, or up to 13,000 gallons a year for the average family of four. Low-flow toilets and showerheads also yield major water savings. Repair drips promptly; a dripping faucet can waste 20 gallons a day, a leaking toilet 200 gallons. Sweep driveways and sidewalks instead of hosing them down.

In Your Yard:

5. Use natural fertilizers. Apply natural fertilizer such as compost, manure, bone meal or peat whenever possible. Ask your local hardware and garden supply stores to stock these natural fertilizers. You can also buy a composting setup at a garden supply or hardware store, or by mail. Composting decreases the need for fertilizer and helps soil retain moisture. If you don’t know how to compost, visit The Compost Resource Page or the EPA’s composting pages.

6. Avoid over-watering lawns and gardens. Use slow-watering techniques on lawns and gardens. Over-watering lawns can increase the leaching of fertilizers into groundwater. Trickle or “drip” irrigation systems and soaker hoses are 20 percent more efficient than sprinklers.

7. Decrease impervious surfaces around your home. Having fewer hard surfaces of concrete and asphalt will improve drainage around your home and in your yard. Do your landscaping with vegetation, gravel or other porous materials instead of cement; install wood decking instead of concrete, and interlocking bricks and paver stones for walkways. Redirect rain gutters and downspouts to soil, grass or gravel areas. Planting vegetation at lower elevations than nearby hard surfaces allows runoff to seep into soil.

8. Maintain septic systems properly. Have the septic tank cleaned out every three to five years. Effluent from failed or poorly maintained septic systems can contaminate groundwater. Monitoring and cleaning your system regularly also saves money by prolonging the life of the system.

Maintaining Your Car:

9. Recycle used motor oil. Avoid pouring waste oil into gutters or down storm drains, and resist the temptation to dump wastes onto the ground. A single quart of motor oil that seeps into groundwater can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. If you don’t have a place to recycle used motor oil in your community, ask your local sanitation or public works department to create one.* When you buy motor oil, ask if the store or service station has a program to buy back waste oil and dispose of it properly. Keep up with car maintenance to reduce leaking of oil, coolant, antifreeze and other hazardous fluids.

10. Be “green” when washing your car. Hand-wash your car on the lawn with a bucket of soapy water, rags and a hose. Just turning off the hose between rinsings can save up to 150 gallons. Or, if you don’t want to do it yourself, choose a car wash that recycles its water.

In Your Community:

11. Help identify, report and stop polluters. Join a local clean water or environmental group that monitors industries and sewage treatment plants that are discharging wastes.** Local groups can be effective working together with state environmental agencies, EPA and national groups like NRDC to ensure that industries comply with regulations.

12. Be an activist. Contact your public officials and attend hearings to encourage them to support laws and programs to protect our water. Ask officials to control polluted runoff, increase protection for wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems, reduce the flow of toxics into our waterways, and strengthen enforcement. Volunteer for a beach or stream clean up, tree planting, water quality sampling, or stream pollution monitoring project sponsored by a local environmental group or watershed council. Visit NRDC’s Earth Action Center to get government contact information and learn about urgent issues you can get in involved in.

* See the blue pages of your local phone book. It contains listings for local, county, state and federal government offices in your area.
** To find a local clean water organization in your area, contact the Clean Water Network at cleanwaternt@igc.org.