Be an H2O Hero at Home: Make Your Home the Solution to Pollution
When you look around at your community, you will likely notice that there is more land covered with housing than any other use. Every house has impervious surfaces (roofs, sidewalks, and/or driveways) that prevent water from soaking into the ground. The stormwater runoff that comes from these impervious surfaces picks up pollutants that have come from the air, lawn and garden care, vehicles, pets, or on-site wastewater treatment systems and washes them into our waterways. If you and your neighbors become H2O Heroes, you can make a difference by reducing the pollutants that make their way to Lake Ontario. Click on one of the links to learn more about what you can do at home:
- Proper Pet Waste Disposal
- Lawn Care and Landscaping
- Home Maintenance and Improvements
- Car Maintenance
- Proper Chemical Use, Storage, and Disposal
- Septic System Maintenance
Pet waste left on the street or lawn does not just go away or fertilize the grass. The bacteria and nutrients in dog waste is often washed by rainwater or snowmelt down storm drains and into ditches, streams, ponds, and lakes and can travel for miles in the water. Kitty litter dumped outside can also be washed into our streams. The bacteria from pet waste can make it unsafe to swim in our waters. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (eutrophication). Cloudy and green, eutrophic water makes swimming and recreation unappealing or even unhealthy. It’s been estimated that there are more than 110,000 dogs that live in Monroe County. Just think about the amount of pollutants that could be washed into our waterways from that much dog waste! In most communities, it is the law that dog waste must be picked up from sidewalks, roads, or the private property of another person.
For Dog Waste:
- Keep a supply of bags near your dog leash, tie bags on the leash if you don’t have a pocket or pack
- Reuse old bags: plastic newspaper bags, bread bags, sandwich bags, cereal bags, potato chip bags, etc.
- Purchase special bags where pet supplies are sold
- Long-handled “pooper scoopers” available at pet stores make it easy to pick up after your dog without stooping over.
- Discard the bag in your outdoor trash can
- DO NOT PUT PET WASTES INTO A STORM SEWER — IT WILL GO DIRECTLY INTO A STREAM!
- Need Help? You can contract with a service to pick up the pet waste in your yard. Check in the yellow pages or use a search engine to find a service.
For Cat Waste:
- Bag used kitty litter, tie securely, and place in garbage,
1: Minimize fertilizer Use: Fertilizers used for lawns and gardens contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. In Monroe County, most of our soils already have enough phosphorus to make our grass and plants grow. When phosphorus contained in fertilizer gets washed off our grass and gardens with rainwater, the phosphorus makes its way to our ponds and lakes. Too much phosphorus in our waterways causes an excess of algae and other plant growth in our water (eutrophication). In turn, when the algae and plants in the water decompose, they use up oxygen needed by aquatic life such as fish, and the decomposition also smells bad. Decomposition of excessive algae is one of the leading reasons for temporary closing of local beaches. How? Have your soil tested, and fertilize only when needed. Fertilize early autumn only to supplement nitrogen. To find a zero phosphorus fertilizer, use your favorite internet search engine.
2: Mulching grass clippings or leaving them on your lawn provides a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Mowing high helps control weed growth. DO NOT dump grass clippings or other plant materials into streets, catch basins, or streams — the nutrients will leach from them and enter nearby waterways, spurring unwanted algae growth.
5: Why? Pollutants picked up from your roof can be kept out of the waterways if they are first filtered and used by your existing vegetation. If the downspouts are directed to impervious surfaces like your driveway and storm sewer, they will make their way directly to the closest waterway. How? You can direct your downspouts directly onto vegetated surfaces, or install a rain barrel to collect the rain and distribute it as needed to other parts of your yard or during drier periods.
6: Plant rain gardens of native drought and pest-resistant plants to collect and filter rainwater. Why? Because rainwater picks up pollutants from the surfaces it touches, and washes them into our waterways. For more information on rain gardens, go to http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/wm/dsfm/shore/documents/rgmanual.pdf
8: Use proper pesticide notification signs and let your neighbors know. See www.monroecounty.gov (click on Public Health) or call 753-PEST for more information and regulations.
- Need a new roof? Consider having a green roof installed to reduce stormwater runoff and in turn reduce pollutants that get washed into waterways. Green roofs also conserve energy usage.
- Want to know more about green roof installations in the Rochester area? Use your favorite search engine. If you put in “green roofs Rochester New York” you’ll get some hits.
- Need a new driveway or walkway? Consider using gravel or porous blocks if you have sandy soils, rather than impermeable pavement. Gravel or other porous materials allow water to seep into the ground and cleanse itself before making its way to groundwater. Stormwater hitting a paved driveway usually carries pollutants quickly to a local stream or pond. Some towns and villages have restrictions on the construction of gravel driveways, so be sure to check first before planning a gravel driveway.
- Rain Gardens. Create a rain garden. A rain garden is a planted depression that is designed to absorb rainwater runoff from roofs and driveways. This reduces stormwater runoff by allowing rain to soak into the ground and replenish groundwater. By reducing runoff, rain gardens help protect water quality and reduce erosion and flooding. (More info)
- Install a rain barrel.. A rain barrel collects and stores rain water from your roof that would otherwise be lost to the stormwater system. A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Collecting and using rain water helps protect the environment and saves money and energy (decreased demand for treated tap water). Diverting water from storm drains also reduces the impact of runoff on streams and Lake Ontario. (More info)
Reconsider car maintenance at home:
“…When cars are washed on streets and driveways, dirty water enters storm drains and makes its way to local waterways. The used wash water contains, among other things, detergent residue, heavy metals, and oil and grease. Other pollutants that can make their way to waterways from cars include residue from exhaust fumes, gasoline, heavy metals from rust and motor oils.”
Use a commercial car wash: The average homeowner uses 116 gallons of water to wash a car, while most commercial car washes use 60% less water for the entire process than a homeowner uses just to rinse the car. Also, most commercial car washes reuse wash water and then send it to a wastewater treatment plant for processing.
If you do wash your car at home, here’s how to minimize the water quality impact:
- Use only biodegradable, phosphate-free, water based cleaners.
- Use a high-pressure, low volume hose with a trigger nozzle to save water
- Wash on an area that absorbs water, such as gravel, or grass, which filters water before it enters groundwater, storm drains or creeks.
- Avoid washing cars on concrete or asphalt pavement
- When planning a car wash fundraiser, try developing a partnership with a commercial car wash facility or have the cars washed on a permeable surface
- Always empty wash buckets into sinks or toilets, or onto the lawn.
Used oil from a single oil change can pollute up to one million gallons of freshwater. Improper disposal of used oil, which includes oil leaking from cars, contributes significantly to stormwater pollution. The EPA estimates that American households generate 193 million gallons of used oil every year and improperly dump the equivalent of 17 Exxon Valdez oil spills every year. Oil that leaks from cars onto pavement will get washed into nearby storm drains and enter local waterways untreated. Never dump motor oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid or other engine fluids down storm drains, into road gutters, on the ground or into a ditch.
What can you do?
- Check your car often for oil and fluid drips and other leaks and fix them promptly
- Have your car regularly tuned up to reduce oil use
- Use ground cloths or drip pans under your vehicle if you have leaks or are doing engine work.
- RECYCLE used motor oil. Many auto supply stores, car care centers, gas stations, and some public works facilities accept used motor oil.
- Clean up spills immediately. Use kitty litter or sand to soak up the liquid. Properly dispose of this material after the spill. Collect all used motor oil in containers with tight fitting lids. Do not mix waste oil with gasoline, solvents or other engine fluids. This contaminates the oil, which may otherwise be reused and may form a more hazardous chemical. Click here for more
Unused household cleaners, grease, oil, paints, pesticides, or fertilizers should not be disposed of outside or disposed of with your weekly trash. On household lawns and gardens, homeowners can try natural alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides and apply no more than the recommended amounts. Natural predators like insects and bats, composting, and use of native plants can reduce or entirely negate the need for lawn chemicals. For information on how to properly dispose of chemical waste, go to the Monroe County Household Hazardous Waste Program at
If your home has an on-site septic system (very likely if you don’t pay for sewer services as part of your local tax bill), it is important that you properly maintain your system so that sewage does not leak onto your lawn and drain to nearby waterways. Here is a link for information about maintaining your septic system: Monroe County Health Dept. Septic System Care and Maintenance: