A rain garden or wetland garden provides a beautiful solution to a troublesome patch of yard while helping reduce flooding and erosion. Photo by Marcy Damon/CBF Staff.
12 Things You Can Do to Clean Up Pennsylvania's
Rivers and Streams
Photo by CBF Staff
Making it Happen
Successful school, organization, and community projects are popping up all over the watershed. Here a just a few to provide you with some inspiration.
Maryland: Centreville residents build 350 residential rain gardens, fourth-graders at Chesapeake Public Charter School turn a pollution runoff nightmare into paradise, and the Parkwood Civic Association build a living shoreline on Back Creek.
Pennsylvania: Antietam Meadows plants 600 trees, Lower Dauphin High School students build 12 rain barrels, the Ware family and Lancaster Township restore a floodplain, Lititz Run restored, Lemoyne's Market Street rain gardens, South Allison Hill revitalization
Virginia: Students and partners plant rain gardens at Linwood Holton Elementary School, The Academy at Virginia Randolph, and Fredericksburg Academy and start a composting program at Cub Run Elementary School.
One of the most common questions we're asked is "What can I do to help save the Bay?"
The short answer is to prevent polluted runoff—especially nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment—from running into your local creeks, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. When water flows off of our streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, it picks up all kinds of pollutants like pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and automotive fluids. As more houses, roads, and shopping centers are built, more of this polluted stormwater or runoff makes its way through gutters and storm drains to the nearest stream.
Here are 12 ways you can take real action to reduce polluted runoff. Many of these make great projects for your community, school, church, scout troup, garden club, or other group.
Twelve Ways to Reduce Polluted Runoff
- Make an appointment to service your septic system. Septic systems should be inspected yearly to ensure proper functioning. Waste from failing systems can leak into the groundwater and eventually end up in local waterways and the Bay.
- Properly dispose of hazardous household items. Oils, anti-freeze, paint, solvents, cleaners, preservatives, and prescription drugs should not be poured down a household or storm drain. Check with your county waste management service to find out what hazardous materials they accept.
- Reduce or eliminate use of fertilizers and chemical herbicides and pesticides. Learn to live with a dandelion or two. Lawn fertilizers and chemicals are a big source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and toxic runoff.
- Landscape with native plants. Bay-friendly landscaping reduces stormwater runoff. In addition, native grasses and other plants don’t require the amount of watering or fertilizing necessary for non-natives. Consider involving and educating your community by using Bay-friendly landscaping on community property near your home. Find out more about gardening with native plants.
- Eliminate bare spots in your yard. Bare spots are places where vegetation (such as plants, shrubs, grasses, flowers) no longer exists in the soil. The outcome of having any type of bare spot is the same: stormwater hits the ground and is not able to soak in to the soil. Use our step-by-step guide to fix the bare spots in your school or home yard.
- Make a rain garden. Rain gardens are special gardens placed in low-lying areas that typically receive a lot of runoff during storms. Planted with native species that can handle wet soil, these gardens help reduce flooding and erosion and filter runoff. Learn how to build your own rain garden. If you have a really wet area or one with heavy clay soil that drains slowly, you might want to consider a backyard wetland.
- Install a rain barrel (or two). Placed at the base of a downspout, a typical rainbarrel can hold 55-75 gallons of stormwater runoff from a rooftop, reducing flooding and erosion. They can be bought from garden supply centers or easily built. Learn how to build and install your own rain barrel: download the brochure (pdf) or watch the video below.
- If you live on the water, build a living shoreline. Living shorelines prevent erosion, allow wildlife access, and beautify your waterfront. This is another great community project. Learn more about living shorelines.
- Resurface with permeable pavers. Time to replace that crumbling driveway? Consider using permeable pavers that allow runoff to soak into the ground and be filtered naturally rather than runoff into the nearest storm drain.
- Participate in a local training or certification program. Programs such as CBF's Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards (VoiCeS) and Pennsylvania's new Environmental Leadership Training teach citizens how to engage their communities in identifing and solving environmental problems. Look for a local program near you. CBF offers programs in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Several states also offer Watershed Stewards Academy or Master Watershed Stewards programs.
- Scoop the poop. Make your neighbors happy and keep harmful nutrients and bacteria out of waterways by always cleaning up after your pet.
- Don't litter. Reduce the amount of trash that ends up in the Bay.
See below for more local and online resources you can use to help reduce pollution and Save the Bay™.
How to Install a Rain Barrel
Members of CBF's Student Wave leadership program show how to install a rain barrel as a way to prevent polluted runoff, save water, and educate others.
Community Resources for Stormwater Compliance
View the webinar: MS4—Putting the Pieces Together
Here are a few helpful fact sheets:
Green Infrastructure Practices and Potential Funding Options
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's work to reduce urban and suburban polluted runoff is sponsored, in part, by the William Penn Foundation. The William Penn Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts to close the achievement gap for low-income children, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region.
What About Road Salt?
"The main concern is for freshwater systems—ponds, lakes, and streams," says CBF Senior Scientist Beth McGee. "There have been studies done that show that elevated chloride (salt) concentration, from applying salt to streets, can be toxic to freshwater organisms."
Salt running into the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers is less of a concern because these waterways are already brackish—a mixture of salty and fresh water. But, in general, no matter where we live, we all should try to minimize our use of road salt.
Under no circumstances, should people use lawn or garden fertilizer as an ice-melting substitute for spreading salt on their sidewalks and driveways, as the nitrogen and phosphorus make their way into waterways. The same goes for products that contain nitrogen-based urea.
If you're looking for an eco-friendly alternative, avoid sodium chloride, read ingredient lists, and do your homework. This review from Grist is a good place to start. (CBF does not endorse Grist's recommendations or any products listed.)
Resources Available to Help You Save the Bay
Local CBF Events
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation provides workshops and restoration events throughout the Bay watershed where you can learn to build a rain barrel, help plant a stream buffer, work on a living shoreline, or participate in other clean-water projects in your community. Bookmark our online calendar and check it throughout the year for an event near you.
CBF's Student Wave
Student Wave is our student movement to #savethebay. See what kinds of projects high school students throughout the watershed are doing and share yours through photos, video, and more.
Storm Drain Stenciling
Many people are not aware that most storm drains lead directly to waterways that dump into the Bay. You can help clean up the Bay by stenciling a message that will help members of your community remember that nothing but rain water should enter the storm drains. Storm drains are not trash cans: whatever is dumped into them ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. Learn more about how to participate in this important project.
What Goes Down the Drain?
(2006) This playful publication was designed mainly for fourth and fifth graders who want to find out what they can do to help stop pollutants from flowing into the Bay. It is a companion piece for the large, interactive drainpipe display that CBF uses at festivals, and it includes word scrambles, trivia questions, and other games.
Detox Your Home
(2005) This poster colorfully illustrates things you can do to cut back on the use of dangerous chemicals in both your home and in your yard.
10 Things You Can Do To Save the Bay
(2006) Think about the choices you make in your home, in your yard, and at your table. Consider making changes to help lessen pollution in our waterways. This colorful poster outlines ten things you can do to help make a difference.
State Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinances
Counties and states have their own erosion and sediment control ordinances. Become familiar with your local ordinance and the steps for reporting sites that are out of compliance.