When people think about sources of water pollution, they may readily identify industry and agriculture as the primary culprits.
We rarely consider that actions we take or practices we follow in our own yards can have a huge impact on the quality of the water we drink, cook with, swim in or boat on.
The fact is, however, our yards can be a major source of water pollution.
So, the next time you're out appreciating home and business landscapes, think about the things we all can do to protect water quality.
People enjoy seeing lush, green, weed-free lawns. Unfortunately, this desire for great grassy expanses can lead to an excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Nutrients in fertilizers and some compounds in pesticides may end up polluting our streams, rivers, lakes and bays as well as groundwater.
You can help prevent such pollution following these tips:
· Choose grasses suited to your conditions.
· Apply the correct amount of fertilizer – as determined by a soil test – at the proper time of year.
· Mow your grass to the proper height.
· Leave grass clippings on the lawn.
Water is sometimes in short supply, especially during periods of summer drought.
People can waste enormous amounts of water trying to keep lawns green during the hot, dry summer months, when grass naturally goes dormant.
Many don't realize that lawns will automatically "re-green" when the weather cools and rainfall returns.
Pet waste left to decay on the sidewalk or on grass near the street may be washed into storm drains by rain or melting snow.
Storm drains do not go to a sewage treatment plant, but rather drain directly into our waterways, carrying pollutants along with the water.
At least two university fact sheets contain information we need to better take care of our lawns as we improve water quality. The first, from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, focuses on varying lawn needs and homeowner tasks as we progress through the seasons of the year. It can be found at pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs.
The second fact sheet is at mda.maryland.gov/fertilizer and centers on proper use of lawn fertilizer.
With a small amount of planning and a deeper understanding of how significant our role is in maintaining water quality, the future of our vital water resource is brighter.
John Berry is the agricultural marketing educator for Penn State Extension, Lehigh County.