Are this spring's rains too much of a good thing? The recent downpours are creating storm water runoff and have me thinking about all of the things that are carried away with the excess water.
We have to realize that every rooftop, driveway and street is space that used to soak up water. The more we build, the less space we have for the water to soak in - so more runoff is produced. As the runoff travels, it picks up soil, trash, leaves, fertilizer and anything else that is in its path.
Lawrence has a storm water system to channel the water - but the water is not filtered or treated before it enters the river. Outside of the city, storm water simply travels down roads and ditches, picking up the same pollutants and carrying them into local waterways that also feed into the river.
You can help reduce storm water runoff and pollution by making a few changes in your yard. Here are some simple things you can do that really do make a difference:
¢ Sweep yard waste and grass clippings from sidewalks, driveways and curbs and toss it back onto the lawn or dispose of it properly. If you live in Lawrence, the city picks up yard waste on Mondays and takes it to the city's composting facility. If you are outside the city limits, start your own compost pile or bin.
¢ Remove trash and yard waste from storm drains and ditches.
¢ Fertilize your lawn at the appropriate time (September and November for fescue) and have a soil test determine what nutrients the grass really needs. After application, sweep the excess from impervious surfaces and toss it back onto the lawn. Fertilizer often contains large amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen which deplete oxygen in water and result in fish kills.
¢ Pick up after your pet. Pet waste contains bacteria and other pollutants, and the U.S. Geological Survey reports that about 25 percent of the bacteria in samples from local creeks and streams comes from pet waste. Flush pet waste down the toilet or bag it and put it in the trash.
¢ Read the label. Pesticide labels contain detailed instructions about how to use the product. Not reading and following those instructions puts us all at risk.
¢ Identify the pest before you attempt to treat it. Many plant "problems" are environmental or aesthetic. Applying a product to treat a problem unnecessarily just adds to the pollution problem, and is a waste of your money.
¢ Use porous surfaces for walkways and patios instead of concrete. Brick and flagstone are great alternatives, or use stepping stones and gravel.
¢ Use plants to hold soil on slopes and steep banks. Bare soil erodes easily and washes into our water bodies with everything else. Excess sediment in the water blocks sunlight that is necessary for aquatic life.
¢ Install a rain barrel to collect runoff and re-use it in your yard. You can also direct your downspouts to water flower beds, or build a rain garden to collect and filter runoff within your yard.
The way that we maintain our lawns and landscapes affects everyone in the neighborhood. Together we can make a difference.
If you have questions about rain gardens, rain barrels, or other garden concerns, call a Douglas County Extension Master Gardener at 843-7058, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org any time.