Your Home is 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. When you and your neighbors become H2O Heroes, you make a difference by reducing the pollutants that make their way to your local detention pond, stream and eventually Lake Ontario.
Car Maintenance Ecosystem Impact
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.
Reducing Car Wash Pollution
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.
Minimize your water quality impact at home:
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. There are also charity car wash kits available for purchase that prevent wash water from entering the storm drain. They typically include a tub, pump, and hose.
Always empty wash buckets into sinks or toilets, or onto the lawn.
Car Oil Environmental Impact
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.
Prevent car oil pollution:
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.
Lawn Care & Landscaping
Fertilizers used for lawns and gardens may contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. In Monroe County, most of our soils already have enough phosphorus to make our grass and plants grow. Phosphorus 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. For more information on phosphorus in our local waterways, go to H2O Quality 101. Make sure your fertilizer does not contain phosphorus by reading the label and verifying that the middle number of the three number set shown is 0, for example 12-0-15. Fertilize in early autumn only to supplement nitrogen, and now, IT'S THE LAW!: New York State has recently banned the application of fertilizers containing phosphorous on lawns, unless a soil test indicates that it is low in phosphorous. In addition, the application of any fertilizer to the lawn is banned between December 1st and April 1st. Dispose of unused phosphorus-containing fertilizers properly.
Mulching grass clippings or leaving them on your lawn provides a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Mowing high helps control weed growth. Sweep up grass clippings from roadways and driveways, and 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.
The fertilized soil that you create by composting leaves and grass clippings can be recycled in your yard and reused as a natural fertilizer.
Undisturbed (unmowed) vegetation along streams and drainage pathways will capture nutrients that wash off your lawn before they are discharged to the waterway. Now IT'S THE LAW!: New York State now prohibits the application of lawn fertilizer within 20 feet of any surface water except where there is a vegetative buffer of at least 10 feet. Low cost conservation plants are available in early spring from the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Most storm drains flow directly to nearby waterways, and any fertilizer, dirt, and debris that enters the storm drains will cause pollution of streams, and eventually Lake Ontario. Now IT'S THE LAW!: New York State has recently prohibited application of fertilizer on impervious surfaces and requires pick up of fertilizer applied or spilled onto impervious surfaces, such as sidewalks, driveways, and roadways.
Use proper pesticide notification signs and let your neighbors know. Call 753-PEST for more information and regulations.
When it rains, any misapplied fertilizers sitting on sidewalks or other paved areas will get washed into drainageways and make their way, untreated, into our waterways.
Follow directions on the bag and don't apply broadly. Sweep up excess from driveways and sidewalks; don't wash off these surfaces.
Download the H2O Hero Lawn care and Landscaping brochure
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.
You can direct your downspouts directly onto vegetated surfaces, such as a rain garden, or install a rain barrel to collect the rain and distribute it as needed to other parts of your yard during drier periods.
Plant rain gardens of native drought- and pest-resistant plants to collect and filter rainwater. Rainwater picks up pollutants from the surfaces it touches, and washes them into our waterways. For more information on rain gardens, click here.
Household chemicals, electronics & pharmaceuticals
Household cleaners, automotive fluids, pesticides, fertilizers, and paints should not be disposed of with your regular trash collection because they can be hazardous. Also, these materials can leak or spill while being transported by your trash hauler and contribute to stormwater pollution of our local waterways.
Monroe County’s Ecopark is a great resource for properly disposing of these hazardous materials.
The Ecopark also accepts other items that can be difficult to recycle or dispose of such as electronics and pharmaceuticals.
Consumers may no longer dispose of certain types of electronics, such as computers and televisions, in landfills or at curbside for trash pick-up. Industry experts estimate that in the United States, consumers throw away 400 million units of electronic equipment each year. Recycling electronic waste helps prevent toxins such as lead, mercury, and cadmium from contaminating local waterways.
Unused or expired pharmaceuticals should not be disposed of down the drain. Some pharmaceuticals pass through the wastewater treatment process unaltered and are discharged into the receiving waterway (such as Lake Ontario) where they can impact water quality and harm aquatic life.
Visit the ecopark website for additional information and instructions on recycling or disposing of electronics and pharmaceuticals. The site also includes the most current information about recycling or disposing of other difficult items and materials including appliances, light bulbs, batteries, and Styrofoam, as well as helpful tips for curbside recycling.
Septic System Maintenance
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. As a general guideline, sceptic tanks should be pumped out every 2 or 3 years. For information about maintaining your septic system, go to Monroe County Health Dept. Septic System Care and Maintenance.
Pools, Fountains & Spas
Although it is perfectly safe to enjoy pools, fountains, and spas when their waters are treated properly, that same water in our stormwater system can become hazardous for aquatic life and our environment. Chlorine, acid, algaecides and other water treatment chemicals should be handled, stored, used and disposed of properly. Even the empty containers need proper cleaning before disposal.
Water Treatment Chemicals
Purchase only the amount of chemical needed to do the job. If chemicals need to be stored, place in a covered, yet well-ventilated area.
Thoroughly read all information provided on chemical container labels.
Triple rinse all chemical containers, each time pouring the rinse water back into the pool, fountain, or spa. Containers are then safe for disposal in household garbage.
Dispose of old or unwanted chemicals only at a Household Hazardous Waste facility.
Pool backwashing is the most common maintenance activity. Backwash water can become a pollutant to our stormwater system, and draining to a storm sewer or water body is illegal if the water contains chemicals.
Preventing Chemical and Wastewater Backsplash
Backwash water should drain into the lawn or other landscaped area of your property. Draining slowly will allow chemicals to dissipate and prevent erosion.
Never drain backwash into a stream, creek, pond, or other natural water body.
Do not drain backwash water into the storm sewer.
Do not drain backwash onto driveways, sidewalks, streets, or other impervious surfaces.
All wastewater from acid washing should be neutralized to pH between 6.0 and 7.0 and discharged to the lawn or sanitarysewer.
Dispose of diatomaceous earth (DE) in the household garbage.
Draining Pools, Fountains & Spas
Drain your pool, fountain, or spa only when a tested sample does not detect chlorine.
Do not drain pools, fountains or spas down a driveway or to a storm sewer. Instead, drain slowly to the lawn or other landscaped area of your property using a low-volume pump or siphon.
Be aware of drainage patterns that may affect neighboring properties, especially steep slopes.
Winterize your pool by waiting for chlorine levels to be close to zero, draining your pool as described above, and then adding your winter treatment chemicals. Draining first reduces the amount of chemicals needed and saves money. Mix the chemicals in your pool by using a skimmer pole and brush attachment.
Gutters & Downspouts
Disconnecting your Downspout
In some neighborhoods, roof downspouts are piped underground and connected to the storm sewer system at the street. The purpose of this design was to prevent standing water issues. Unfortunately, this arrangement can contribute to flooding downstream and impact water quality.
Disconnecting your roof downspouts from this underground piping, and directing the water to a rain barrel, rain garden, or suitable lawn area, will reduce the amount of water that enters the stormwater system.
The rainwater coming from a roof mixes with dirty water when it enters the storm drain and becomes polluted. It can also contribute to flooding by adding more water to the nearby waterways during a rain storm. It is estimated that the average size home in Rochester, NY can save over 19,000 gallons of water per year by disconnecting its’ downspouts. This is equal to approximately 380 bathtubs full of water.
Before you disconnect any downspouts, it’s important to give consideration to local building codes and how runoff will be managed so that it does not result in standing water or impact your home or adjacent properties. If your home has downspouts that are connected to the storm sewer system it is relatively easy to disconnect them yourself and route the water to a garden, a lawn, or a rain barrel.
Determine if the soils in your yard can infiltrate the water. For a downspout disconnect to work it is important to make sure that your soils will allow the water to soak into the ground rapidly. Generally, sandy soils infiltrate more quickly than soils with large amounts of clay.
How to preform a Simple Infiltration test or Percolation Test on soil:
Dig a hole in the ground, approximately 14” deep and about 6” wide near the downspout on your house that you want to disconnect.
Take a hose and completely soak the hole with water and then allow it to fill up to the top.
Once it is filled, time how long it takes for the water to soak in and disappear. The hole should be completely empty of water in 24 hours or less. If it does not drain within 24 hours you should not disconnect your downspout because you have poor draining soils. As a general rule, soils should infiltrate about an inch per hour.
Make sure that if you disconnect a downspout you are not directing the water to an adjacent property.
Transport the water at least 10 feet away from the foundation to a flat location with enough space to properly soak it into the ground. This is to ensure that you are not directing water towards the foundation of the home.