Some of the most important activities people can do to reduce polluted runoff* include:
- Scoop the Poop
- Use Little or No Fertilizers, Herbicides or Pesticides
- Wash Your Car at a Commercial Car Wash
- Walk, Bike and Take Public Transit
- Plant and Protect Native Evergreens and Shrubs
- Keep Your Car Properly Maintained
- Keep Water On-Site with Rain Gardens, Cisterns, and Green Roofs
*polluted runoff includes: toxic runoff, urban runoff, stormwater pollution, and pollution consequent of combined sewer overflows.
1. Scoop the Poop
Creating a poop-free Puget Sound is more important than you might think. According to King County, there are more than 200 tons of pet waste deposited in the Puget Sound region every day, and water runoff flushes some of it into streams, rivers and Puget Sound. Dog poop contains things like E. coli, Giardia and Roundworms – nasty stuff that we don’t want in Puget Sound. The very best thing you can do when walking your dog outside is to bring plastic bags, pick up the poop, and dispose of it in a trash can. Do not contaminate your compost with pet waste. This is one of those rare cases where throwing something away is the best option.
Learn more at: scooppoop.org
2. Use Little or No Fertilizers, Herbicides or Pesticides
Yards maintained organically with compost and woodchips can be a first-line of defense against polluted runoff. Organic soils have lot of microbes, a term that refers to the collection of living organisms in soils including good bacterias and fungi. (Learn more about healthy soil). It is really important to develop soils with microbes because 1) they make the soil spongier (better for absorbing water) and 2) many of the microbes have the ability to metabolize and breakdown pollutants that wash off our streets, rooftops, and driveways. It is equally important to avoid use of synthetic chemicals like pesticides, herbicide and fungicide as well as synthetic fertilizers. This is because the synthetic chemicals tend to kill the healthy microbes that help soils filter polluted runoff.
The best things to add to your soil to build fertility and make it spongy are organic compost and woodchips. You can work compost into your annual/vegetable beds, but topdressing soil with two inches of compost works fine. Raking a one- to two-inch compost/sand mix into your lawn can help absorb more rainwater as well. Woodchips in perennial beds and natural areas help create an environment similar to a forest floor in the Pacific Northwest, encouraging beneficial fungi. Soils in need of nitrogen can benefit from a “mulch sandwich”: two inches of compost with three to six inches of woodchips on top. Avoid bark. It repels water and resists breakdown, suppressing the fungal populations that plants need. Woodchips can be obtained from tree trimming crews working in your area.
Great resources for organic yard care include:
- The Garden Hotline, for plan care recommendations; safe natural solutions for pests & plant diseases, water conservation methods, natural lawn care, and composting advice
- King County Natural Yard Care
- Find compost and woodchips at: Ballard’s Dirt Exchange, or e-green landscaping in West Seattle
- National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat
- Learn about Permaculture, a style of gardening that applies ecological principals at Permaculture Now
- Mariposa Naturescapes is a West-Seattle business that focuses on natural yard care: http://www.mariposanaturescapes.com/
3. Wash Your Car at a Commercial Car Wash
When you wash the car in your driveway soap, oil, and metals flow into our storm drains and into Puget Sound. Soaps can include phosphates that can kill sea life by robbing the water of oxygen. Soaps can also include the endocrine disrupting phthalates, which can lead to disease. Prevent this pollution by taking your car to a car wash facility that treats or recycle their run-off water. Check out these alternatives for car wash fundraising events:
4. Walk, Bike and Take Public Transit
Oil and gas from cars and heavy metals like zinc and copper that come from tires and brake pads create a toxic nightmare for Puget Sound’s marine life. The Seattle Aquarium estimates that more than 2 million gallons of used motor oil ends up in Puget Sound each year. And according to Seattle Public Utilities, “even small amount of oil can smother fish eggs and developing shellfish in our lakes and streams. Just 1 pint of oil causes a slick the size of 2 football fields.”
We can all drive less to reduce pollution. When you have the option, choose to walk, bike, or ride the bus instead of driving a car.
5. Plant and Protect Native Evergreens and Native Shrubs
Our native forests are integral to our success in reducing polluted runoff. Native evergreen trees are stormwater-holding tanks. However, we are losing our native forests not only to development, but also to invasive species like English Ivy, Holly, Laurel, Knotweed and Himalayan Blackberry.
You have a lot of options to help plant and protect our native evergreens. If you have a large yard, you may consider planting evergreen trees. If you have an evergreen that has been taken over by English Ivy or Wild Clematis, you can periodically cut the vines at the ground and at chest level to keep if from fruiting and re-infecting forest restoration work elsewhere. If you prefer getting some social time in while saving the Sound, consider joining restoration efforts.
- Groups that run forest restoration projects include: The Nature Consortium, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, EarthCorps, or Green Seattle Partnership.
- Two great resources for learning about invasive species and how to remove them are SeedRain.Org and Green Seattle’s Invasive Removal website
- Learn about native plants at the King County Native Plant Guide website
- Garden Cycles is a West-Seattle based business that removes invasive species:http://gardencycles.com/
6. Keep Your Car Properly Maintained
Oil leaks are a major contributor to water pollution. Keep the oil and other fluids like antifreeze out of our storm drains and out of Puget Sound by maintaining your car. Find a motor oil recycling station in your neighborhood at: http://lhwmp.org/home/HHW/motor-oil.aspx
7. Keep Water On-Site with Rain Barrels, Rain Gardens, and Permeable Surfaces
Keeping rainwater on-site is beneficial for our waterways for two big reasons:
- It prevents stormwater from overwhelming our sewage systems, thereby preventing Combined Sewer Overflows (aka sewage in our waters); and
- It lets water filter through soil where some of the pollutants can be broken down through the natural activity of soil microbes like bacteria and fungi (learn about bioremediation)
The best ways to keep water on site include using rain gardens, collecting water with rain barrels or cisterns, and using permeable surfaces. Here is a list of resources to learn more about keeping water on your property:
- RainWise Website, hosted by Seattle Public Utilities, gives advice on how to: build rain gardens, install rainwater cisterns, disconnect your downspout, create a rock-filled infiltration trench, install porous pavement, plan trees, use compost and mulch, and find contractors to help with installation
- Building a Rain Garden in the Pacific Northwest: 30 minute video by the WSU Extension and the Pacific Northwest Regional Water Program
- Stewardship Partners is a local nonprofit with an initiative to build 12,000 rain gardens to protect Puget Sound. They host rain garden workshops and their website is an evolving site of rain garden resources.
- Green Roofs and Rain Gardens: this site, hosted by King County, includes a 16-minute video on Green Roofs and Rain Gardens.
- Download the Rain Garden Handbook for Western Washington Homeowners by following the WSU-Pierce County Extension link on this website.
- Learn about Rain Barrels at this King County Rain Barrel Information Page
Why we should become stewards of Puget Sound
There is a lot at stake. Citizens are losing their rights to fish and swim in the Sound’s waters or to make their livelihoods from local fisheries and eco-tourism. Warnings are posted around the Sound alerting people to the dangers of eating fish and shellfish. We are also losing the salmon and killer whales that underpin the identity of Pacific Northwest residents and help to drive tourism to our region.
We can reverse these trends. By protecting our storm drains and by creating a landscape that acts more like a sponge, we can stop the flow of pollutants into Puget Sound. An excellent example is Seattle’s Street Edge Alternative Project (SEA Streets). SEA Streets was a project that reduced hard surfaces by 11% and strategically planted rain gardens, evergreen trees, and native shrubs. The impact was a 98% reduction in polluted runoff!
Together, the citizens of Puget Sound can take small steps, like picking up dog poop, volunteering in a forest restoration effort, and going to the carwash – and large steps like building rain gardens – to restore Puget Sound to health. Through collective effort, we can hope to see robust salmon and killer whale populations once again.
Let us know which actions you already do and plan to take to help restore Puget Sound and defeat the Tox-Ick monster: