Why is there pollution in Bowie's streams?
When we think water pollution, we may instantly picture a big factory with smoke pipes, an oil spill, or a toxic leak from an industrial facility. But across the country, "non-point source pollution," or pollution that comes from our small sources like our homes, yards, roads, parking lots and cars is the number one cause of water pollution.
"How much damage can my little old house do?", you may be wondering. Well, not much, but when combined with the other 20,000+ houses in Bowie and 300,000+ across the county, the pollution adds up quickly!! So the better question becomes "How does my property pollute local waterways and what can I do about it?"
When it rains, water that doesn't soak into the ground but instead travels into storm drains and streams is called stormwater or stormwater runoff. It can cause many problems in streams because as it flows over land and roads, it picks up trash, dirt, oil, pet waste, pesticides and or other chemicals and substances. For example, washing a car on a paved driveway can cause auto fluids (oil, gas, anti-freeze), dirt, and heavy metals from wearing brakes or tires to flow from the driveway into the road, then down the storm drain and into a local stream.
Luckily, there are a number of ways that each of us can minimize our contribution to polluted runoff.
Lawn Care & Maintenance
When we think about our yards, we might picture a late summer evening cookout, lounging with friends, or playing ball with the kids and dog. Perhaps others groan when remembering all the work that is required to maintain the turf in its pristine condition. Here are a few tips for reducing time, money and potential pollution needed to care for your lawn.
- Think native. There are many plants, grasses and flowers that are native to our area and are therefore adapted to our particular climate, soil and precipitation. Once established, they need little to no care, which reduces the need for costly and potentially harmful pesticides, fertilizers and supplemental watering. Consider bayscaping!
- Use a mulching mower. For those areas where you do have turf grass, try a mulching mower. It provides a natural fertilizer for your lawn by grinding up leaves and grass and leaving them in place. This will also protect your grass from the hot summer sun. This also saves you from having to bag leaves in the fall. (Residents within the corporate limits of the city can receive a rebate of $50 after purchasing a mulching, electric or reel mower)
- Sweep your sidewalks and driveway rather than hosing down these hard, or impervious surfaces. Not only is the water from your hose a valuable resource, but if used to wash impervious surfaces, particles and substances that have collected there flow into the street and storm drains. The next stop for this polluted water? Bowie's streams and waterways.
- Find a lawn alternative. City code does not mandate turf grass that is kept no higher than one inch. In reality, all sorts of alternatives to traditional turf lawns are available, including clover, sedum, and native grasses. The Maryland Extension Service has more information on native groundcovers.
Car Washing & Maintenance
In many areas, washing your car sends large volumes of pollutants (soapy water, oil, road dirt, heavy metals) into local waterways without treatment. Read below to see how to wash your car at home but minimize the pollution it generates.
- The ideal choice for car washing is to use a commercial car wash. Federal laws require that these facilities send the dirty wash water to the local wastewater treatment plant...and many will collect, clean and reuse the water on-site. An added benefit - commercial car washes can use up to 50% less water than the Do-It-Yourself car washers.
- If you want to wash your car, do it on your lawn. There is a regulation in the City that car tires must be on paved surfaces, but moving the car onto the grass temporarily for washing or maintenance is allowed, provided it is immediately moved back to the road, driveway or parking lot.
- DIY-washers should also choose their soap very carefully, even when washing on grass. Choose a biodegradable soap that is made for washing cars (not dish soap!), and be sure the soap is phosphate-free.
- Proper car maintenance will keep your car free from leaks and can reduce the heavy metals from wearing car parts such as brakes and tires
- At-home maintenance should be performed in a garage or on a grassy surface when possible so any spills or leaks can be contained. If changing the oil, it should be taken to the City's Public Works Department to be recycled (16500 Annapolis Rd).
Pet Ownership and Maintenance
Q: Who doesn't love pets?
A: our local streams
Well, it may not be the pets that are the problem. Did you know the average dog can generate nearly 250 of solid waste annually? Now, multiply that by the nearly 1,500 registered dogs in the city. That's a lot of dog poop!! Part of having a pet means cleaning up behind them. Not only is it just the right thing to do, but it's also the law. City of Bowie Code Section 4-17. Defecation; removal of excrement states that animal waste must be removed and properly disposed of immediately. Be a good neighbor and pick up after your pooch.