Household Stormwater Part I
Stormwater runoff is the major cause of water quality issues in urban and suburban areas, and is a topic of some concern around Marquette and other Upper Peninsula cities. While your city is responsible for stormwater infrastructure, there is still a lot individuals and households can do to make sure their impact on the stormwater system is as light as it can be. Here are some ways to help your local water quality.
Around the house One of the easiest things to do in your home that improves stormwater quality is to use phosphate-free detergents, soaps and household cleaners, and to not use too much of them. Another way to cut down how much soap goes down the drain is to only use your washing machine on the right load size for the load, and to only run the laundry or dishwasher when you have a full load.
Water efficiency improvements also can help how much wastewater leaves your house and heads into the sewer or septic system. Since storm drains are often linked to sewer systems in case of overflow or emergency, a high volume of wastewater can contribute to runoff problems. Some around-the-house products increase water efficiency, like low-flow shower heads and faucets, low-flow toilets, and WaterSense labeled products like dishwashers. Other things you can do include repairing leaking faucets, pipes, toilets and pumps, and avoiding running the faucets unnecessarily.
Cars There are a few common things people do with their cars at home that can have negative effects on stormwater runoff. One is washing their car in the driveway or street. Because those are hard surfaces that drain to stormwater systems, the soap and dirt ends up in the lake. If you take your car to a commercial car wash instead, they usually are required to catch and either recycle or treat their wastewater.
Another good choice is to wash your car on your lawn or on a graveled area that allows the dirty water to seep into the ground instead, which acts as a natural filtering system. Using biodegradable or non-toxic, phosphate-free soap also minimizes the chemicals that end up in the ecosystem. It’s a good idea to use the minimum amount of soap and water needed, too. A spray nozzle can help reduce water flow, and waterless car-wash products can help with spot cleaning. When you’re done, empty dirty wash water into a sink or toilet indoors, or dump it on grass or another natural surface.
Keeping your car in good shape and free of leaks is another way to help ensure you’re not contributing to stormwater runoff. If your car does have some kind of fluid leak, fix it as soon as you can and clean up any spills in your driveway or on the street that it’s caused.
If you do your own oil changes at home, be conscious of where the used oil goes. Use an oil drain pan to collect old oil. When you’re done, take it to any auto repair shop to be safely disposed of, and of course, clean up any spills promptly.
Pet waste There’s a reason that E. coli bacteria are commonly found in Lake Superior storm drains — and it’s usually pet waste. You might think leaving your pet’s feces behind in your yard or on a walk doesn’t have much impact, and if it was just you, it might not. But collectively, all those not- picked-up poop piles do have an impact on bacteria counts in local waterways. Because towns like Marquette have a higher concentration of pet animals than rural areas, the problem can compound itself pretty quickly, leading to contaminated water and beach closures.
What to do? It’s pretty simple. Bag and pick up pet waste, even if it’s just in your own yard. This keeps it out of the storm drains and in the trash. You can also avoid walking your pet near streams or on beaches — grassy areas, parks or undeveloped areas are better choices.
Paint & chemicals If you have leftover household paint, oils and chemicals, don’t dump it down the drain, whether that’s in your house or on the street. The best thing to do is find out when your town or area has household hazardous waste pickup or turn-in, and dispose of them then. In Marquette, the Marquette County Landfill holds monthly HHW events, so you don’t even have to wait very long.
There are a few other household practices that can help minimize chemicals in stormwater runoff. For instance, when you use ice-melt or salt on your driveway or walkway, use as small of an amount as will do the trick; don’t over-apply it. There are also more environmentally-friendly alternatives to rock salt, like sand or clean cat litter.
For pool, spa or fountain owners who use chlorine in their water, it’s important to winterize safely. Don’t drain your pool or other outdoor water features to the storm drains; instead, let the water go without chlorine treatment until it dissipates (usually a process of several days). Then, test the water to be sure the chlorine level is zero before draining the pool slowly into a landscaped or natural area. It’s also possible to drain the water from water features into the regular sewer system, but check with your municipality to be sure.
Septic systems If you have a septic system, regular maintenance is key to prevent backups and leaks, both of which can spill septic waste and bacteria into storm sewers. Of course, if you have a septic system, you also know that getting it drained regularly by a licensed septic company is key to preventing some really expensive repairs or replacing the system. Don’t skip your annual septic inspection, and avoid chemical additives in your septic system. Reducing the use of your garbage disposal can also help keep clogs and possible leaks down, as can avoiding putting trash of any kind down the toilet.
If you find yourself installing a new septic tank, keeping it away from groundwater and running water is a good idea, as is avoiding planting deep-rooted plants, shrubs or trees near or on the septic system. Roots can work their way down and crack the tank over time.
Litter & debris Finally, when you see litter on the streets, in parking lots or gutters, on your own driveway and sidewalk, or especially clogging up a storm drain — clear it away or throw it out appropriately.
Likewise, don’t dump trash, household products or anything else down storm drains. It doesn’t end up anywhere except in the Great Lakes. If it’s not something you’d be comfortable with dumping in the lake, don’t let it run down a storm drain.