A front-yard wetland in the late afternoon sun. Photo by Marcy Damon/CBF StaffA 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 Your
Rivers, Streams, and the Chesapeake Bay

12 Things You Can Do to Clean Up Your Rivers, Streams, and the Chesapeake Bay

Centreville, MD residents plant a rain garden. Photo by CBF StaffPhoto 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Participate in a local training or certification program. Programs such as CBF's Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards (VoiCeS) 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.
  11. Scoop the poop. Make your neighbors happy and keep harmful nutrients and bacteria out of waterways by always cleaning up after your pet.
  12. 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™.

A snow plow salts a road after a snowstorm. iStockiStock

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.

Questions that require an answer are marked with  *
* Please take a moment to provide the following information so that we may keep you updated on issues and events near you.
 E-Mail Address
 First Name
 Last Name
 Zip Code
* Timestamp

You will begin to receive Bay updates from CBF soon.

In the meantime, join the Bay-friendly conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

Cover: CBF 2014 Polluted Runoff Report

CBF's investigative report Polluted Runoff: How Investing in Runoff Pollution Control Systems Improves the Chesapeake Bay Region's Ecology, Economy, and Health details the problems created by suburban and urban runoff pollution. And it offers steps that local, state, and federal governments can take to reduce pollution and achieve clean water for local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Download it today [pdf]


1-888-SAVEBAY / 1-888-728-3229

BBB Accredited Charity
GuideStar Exchange Gold Participant Seal

Bids & ProposalsPrivacy Policy

© 2017 Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
All Rights Reserved.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a nonprofit,
tax-exempt charitable organization under
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.