Ever heard of the butterfly effect? Well, I believe that concept holds true more in the environment than anywhere else. Every tiny action or change in the environment can trigger a sequence of events, each one connected to the last, like a long winding line of dominoes. This is why it’s so important to be aware of your surroundings and your actions. The more aware you are of what’s around you, the more prepared and successful you can be in addressing problems.
Water quality for example, is impacted by so many interconnected, yet independent things. Any action you take that improves the quality of water resources in your area (eg. rivers, streams, lakes, groundwater, etc), will also indirectly help improve your drinking water quality as well. A range of factors that are out of your control have the potential to negatively impact the quality of your drinking water, from who your neighbor is, to what elevation you live in. The good news is, there are actions you can take in your every day lives that can help offset those negative impacts and help improve overall water quality in your homes and communities.
Be a Good Neighbor
By neighbor, I don’t just mean the family in the house next door. I also mean the counties, cities, and communities that neighbor your own. Actions you take where you live have the potential to impact those you don’t see. Here are some tips that will help you improve water quality by being a good neighbor.
- Do not over fertilize your lawn. Also make an attempt to plan your fertilizer applications around appropriate weather conditions. For example, don’t spray a bunch of lawn fertilizer right before a big rain storm. That’ll just wash away all your hard work while also introducing fertilizer into nearby storm drains and waterways. The same is true for herbicides and pesticides. Here’s a helpful guide developed by Colorado State University on proper lawn care you can use.
- Wash your car at a car wash facility or drive through car wash rather than in your front yard. Professional car washes are set up so that all the waste water flushed from a dirty car (dirt, oil, soap, etc.) makes its way down a service drain, similar to the one in your shower, that sends that dirty water to a wastewater treatment facility. The only place for that mucky water to go if you’re in your driveway is down the neighborhood storm drain, which usually goes straight into a nearby river, stream, or lake.
- Do not dump unwanted garbage In undesignated areas. As you all should know, littering is bad. This is true for water quality purposes too. Most of the junk we throw away would have a negative impact on water quality if we dumped in undesignated areas, especially in or near a water body or storm ditch. The truth is, illegal dumping is strangely common in many parts of the US. Folks tend to think it’s alright to dump their household garbage, old furniture, appliances, you name it – over bridges or docks, into a waterbody, alley ways, storm drains, or open spaces. Please do not be one of those people. Illegal dumping is punishable by law and can lead to significant fines, or even jail time! If you see anyone else doing this, get in touch with your local city or county officials and report what you see.
- Pick up after your pets. Yes, we’ve all heard it. Most people pick up after their pups because they don’t want others, or themselves, to step in it later. Others do it because it’s a neighborhood rule. But did you know that dog poo that’s not picked up eventually makes it to a nearby river, stream, or lake during a strong rain event? Imagine how much poo would be in our waterways if NO ONE picked up after their dogs! That’s a lot of poo.
Some everyday household activities have the potential to add pollutants into our water systems unintentionally. Follow these tips to minimize the introduction of household pollutants into your community’s water system.
- Properly dispose of household hazardous wastes. This includes left over paint, oils, batteries, and even some cleaning supplies. There’s a right way and wrong way to dispose of certain household substances that are toxic, flammable, or corrosive. DEFINITELY don’t dump down the drain. There’s organized household hazardous waste disposal sites you can use to dump anything you don’t need. Learn more about proper disposal methods here.
- Don’t flush old prescriptions down the toilet or drain. Studies have shown that there are trace levels of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. In fact, the link between what drugs we use and what’s found in our drinking water is so strong, health organizations are starting to use data from water quality tests to characterize and quantify drug usage within the population! Although a lot of the drugs found in drinking water comes from excrement, most actually comes from the disposal or flushing of old prescriptions down the drain. Like with household hazardous waste, prescription disposal sites are organized at pharmacies, hospitals, and other public service locations on a regular basis. Look up a prescription disposal location near you.
- Run the water if it hasn’t been on for a long time. If a tap or faucet is not turned on for an extended period of time (we’re talking weeks to months at least), the stagnant water that sits in those unused pipelines can begin to grow bacteria, and even leach various pipeline materials (eg. lead, copper, aluminum, etc) into the water. Make sure to run the water for at least 30 seconds to a minute before using it to ensure any harmful substances are flushed out first. The longer the water has been off, the longer you should run the line to remove potential contaminants.
- Properly maintain your pipes and plumbing systems, including septic tanks. This is especially true if you live in older homes that may have lead based pipelines. Staying on top of the maintenance and repair of your homes plumbing system can not only help improve the quality and taste of your drinking water, it could potentially help save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run by preventing clogged systems and nasty sewage backups. Proper care and maintenance of septic systems is also very important, especially if your primary drinking water source is from a private groundwater well. Ill maintained or faulty septic systems can contaminate shallow groundwater resources, and potentially your drinking water! Avoid drinking your own sewage by following these septic system maintenance and repair guidelines.
Mindful gardening practices are among one of the more fun, and most effective activities you can do to help improve water quality in your community. Rather than just picking out flowers you think look good, try learning more about your environment and the plants that naturally grow there. The positioning and materials you choose to start a garden can have a huge impact on water quality if done right. Here are some tips to help.
- Use native vegetation. Creating a garden using plants that naturally grow and thrive in the climate you live in will yield an overall more robust garden that requires far less work on your part. Native plants require less maintenance, less watering, and less fertilizer which can help you save on time and money while also improving water quality in your area by minimizing the amount of contaminated runoff that would otherwise be introduced into nearby waterways.
- Plant rain gardens or bioswales. Rain gardens and bioswales are gardens or vegetated areas designed to capture larger volumes of water and allow for the slow infiltration of that water into the soil rather than allow for the rapid runoff of that water over the land and into storm drains. These areas are typically slightly deeper than the land surrounding it and are usually contained by some type of barrier (bricks, rocks, curb, etc.). Using native vegetation with resilient and deep root systems are even more successful in improving water quality because those root systems actually uptake excess nutrients and other pollutants in water to help them grow. That’s what I call a win win situation! Check out the great illustration below from Royal Oak Michigan showing how rain gardens look and function.
- Collect grass clippings and fallen leaves in trash bags before disposal. This one is a simple good practice that will limit the amount of lawn “waste” entering waterways. You may think that introducing such materials into waterways is harmless because they are natural and biodegradable materials. However, an excess of organic, biodegradable materials in waterways may result in a high rate of decomposition in a localized area leading to reduced oxygen levels in water that could eventually lead to fish kills and other similar impacts.
Green Home Improvements
These are some of the more expensive options you can opt for to improve water quality in your community. However, implementing such practices also have the potential to add great resale value to your home in the long run. Additionally, these actions may qualifying you for insurance rate reductions because they also protect your home against floods.
- Install some type of permeable pavement on your driveway or patio. From a water quality standpoint in the environment, any practice that will capture and/or slow down the flow of rainwater on the land surface will actually help to remove pollutants and improve quality. Permeable pavements do just that. There are tons of different types of permeable pavement on the market you can check out. Swap out your typical concrete or asphalt with any type of these and you’re golden!
- Redirect downspouts at your house. Repositioning your rain spout so water flows away from your home and into a garden, for example, can be a great way to save water, clean water, and keep your garden healthy! Three birds with one stone. Redirecting downspouts to move water away from the house can also help minimize potential foundation issues down the line. You can get creative with this too! Here are some great examples of how you can redirect your home’s downspout.
- Install a green roof. Similar to rain gardens, bioswales, and permeable pavement, green roofs help to capture and slow down rain water. The plants and soil absorb most of the rain that falls on your roof, limiting how much runoff reaches nearby waterways. This in turn helps improve overall water quality conditions in your area. Green roofs also help keep your home insulated from extreme temperatures so you can save on energy costs all while improving the water quality in your community. That deserves a pat on the back!
Obviously, using water filters, or even installing a household water filter system, is the most direct and effective way to improve drinking water quality in your home. Here are some home water filter options to consider.
- Faucet Filters: This form of filtering water is my favorite, especially if you live in an older home and it’s not in your budget to install a home filtration system. Faucet filters make it much easier to cook and clean with filtered water than other options like pitchers and fridge filters, but are much more affordable than home water filtration systems. A couple reliable faucet filters include the PUR Advanced Faucet Water Filter and the Waterdrop Faucet Water Filter.
- Pitcher Filters: These are great because you can fill up a pitcher and cool your water in the fridge before use. The water tastes great and is always nice and cold. Pitcher filters are the most affordable water filter option and are highly effective in removing pollutants from water. The most popular option on the market are Brita Water Filters, but there are other filter pitchers, such as the Clearly Filtered brand, that are even more effective in removing harmful contaminants from water.
- Refrigerator Filters: Most refrigerators these days have a filtered water dispenser that allows for quick and easy access to a nice cold glass of water. Refrigerator water filters are effective in removing common contaminants like chlorine and metals, but may fall short in removing more complex compounds like pesticides and pharmaceuticals. If you’re concerned that your drinking water may be contaminated with more complex substances, additional filtration may be warranted.
- Household Filtration Systems: There are so many home water filtration systems available on the market. However, this is the most costly option among water filters due not only to the high cost of the system itself, but also the installation cost. But if you’re really concerned about the quality of the water in your home, not only for drinking, but also for cooking, cleaning, and bathing, a household filtration system is the way to go. Just make sure you’re well educated on the characteristics and potential contaminants present in your water to ensure you choose a system that will be most effective for your home. Generally speaking, any filtration system that offers reverse osmosis treatment, like this one, will have the greatest water purification potential.
This is something that many people don’t do as much as they should. Life gets busy, and it’s hard to make time to get involved in community efforts when juggling 3 kids and having to get dinner on the table. However, attending public works meetings that are open to the public gives you the opportunity to learn more about water issues in your community, ways to help, and to get to know the representatives and officials responsible for treating and delivering your drinking water. Technology has improved enough where you don’t even have to be there in person to learn about what’s going on. Most, if not all cities, counties, and agencies involved in managing water resources post everything you need to know on their websites, and even offer call in options for important public meetings.
Donate or Invest
Based on the current status of world water issues, especially US water infrastructure and the increasing community concern and interest in drinking water quality conditions, now is the best time to do what you can to support large and small scale water infrastructure improvement efforts. Whether your a philanthropist or an investor, learn more about the water issues in your area to better evaluate where your money would have the greatest impact and yield the most return. Here are a few resources to help guide you:
Hope you learned something new! Reach out in the comments section if you have a any questions. Until next time!