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Chesapeake Bay residents are part of the solution

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

By Lisa Frack and Michelle Perez

Earlier this month, EWG released a report about the Chesapeake Bay water quality crisis. The report focuses on agriculture's heavy - if unintended - damage to the Bay, specifically the inability of the six Bay states (Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and New York) to cope with this agricultural pollution, over which the federal government has no jurisdiction.

While we know that farm runoff is the main cause of damage to the Bay (and we recommend how to reduce it in our report), runoff from cities and suburbs are a major part of the problem too - causing 11 percent of the nitrogen problem and a whopping 31 percent of the phosphorus problem.

So there's a healing role for the Bay watershed's residents to play, too.

What can Bay state residents do? We agree with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recommendations, and highlight some key ones here:

Garden with your watershed in mind:

  • Fertilize your lawn in the fall and skip the spring fertilizer. Heavy rains in the spring wash fertilizers off lawns into storm drains, then into local waterways and eventually the Bay.
  • Use leftover grass clippings on lawn as a natural fertilizer. Compost excess grass clippings and leaves. Never allow them to wash into roadways where they will reach storm drains.
  • Have your soil tested to determine how much fertilizer your lawn actually needs (if any at all) and the best time to apply it. Also, identifying your grass will help you understand how to properly care for it.
  • Follow manufacturer guidelines and only apply the amount of fertilizer that you need. Twice the product will not make your lawn twice as green!
  • Never apply fertilizer to dormant lawns or on frozen ground.
  • Do not use fertilizer as a de-icer.
  • Get involved in the planning and zoning process in your community. That's where the decisions are made that shape the course of development and the future quality of our environment.

Add green building features @ home:

  • Position gutters and down spouts so they don't drain directly onto paved surfaces but do drain into vegetated or gravel- filled seepage areas. Splash blocks also help reduce erosion.
  • Limit the amount of impenetrable surfaces in your landscape. Use permeable paving surfaces such as wood decks, bricks, and concrete lattice to let water soak into the ground.
  • Install a rain barrel to capture water for your plants and garden.

Take responsibility for your waste:

  • Pet owners should pick up after their pets and dispose of the wastes in the garbage or toilet. Animal wastes contain bacteria and viruses that kill shellfish and close swimming areas.
  • Place litter, including cigarette butts, in trash receptacles. Never throw litter in streets or down storm drains.
  • Wash your car on the grass so soapy water soaks into the ground. Use a hose nozzle to prevent water from running when not in use.
  • Don't hose down driveways or sidewalks. Dry sweeping paved areas, along with careful trash disposal, are simple, effective pollution reducers.
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