Prevent Ocean Pollution
Avoid Urban Runoff
If you live near the ocean or any other major waterway, urban runoff can be a serious concern. Urban runoff is the water that flows through our storm sewers and ends up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. In California, and many other places, it is not uncommon for beaches to be closed periodically because of bacterial contamination. Although the beaches can be closed because a sewer line has failed, the most frequent reason is because of a heavy rain. It is usually recommended, in fact, that swimmers and surfers stay out of the water for at least three days following a storm.
Sadly, this recommendation is widely ignored. I frequently see surfers, in particular, who are excited by the prospect of surfing the large waves that frequently accompany storms. However, surfers are not the only ones who ignore the warnings to avoid the water after it rains. Recently, I was walking around Balboa Island in Newport Beach on a day when there were signs posted every 40 or 50 yards warning people to stay out of the water because of contamination. Two young mothers were sunbathing next to one of the signs, while their toddlers played at the edge of the water. The consequences of ignoring these warnings can be serious. One of my nephews contracted hepatitis after surfing in contaminated waters.
Where Does Urban Runoff Come From?
Storm drains and sewers are completely different systems for handling waste water. The water that goes down the sink or toilet in a home or business flows into a closed sewer system and eventually ends up at a water treatment plant. However, the water that flows through our streets ends up in the storm drain system. This system is designed primarily to prevent flooding. The water in our storm drains starts out in underground pipes, but is eventually directed into the local creeks and rivers, finally ending its journey in the ocean. Storm water is the #1 source of water pollution in California, and most other coastal locations.
What Make Urban Runoff Dangerous?
Water is a universal solvent. When it rains, it washes off all the contaminants it finds on our roofs, gardens, sidewalks and streets, and carries these contaminants into the storm drain system. These contaminants can include everything from cigarette butts to bug poison, fertilizer, rotting leaves, animal waste from both wild animals and pets, car oil, cleaning products and anything that has been poured into the gutters. The combination of all these toxins can create a dangerous mixture.
What Can We Do to Prevent Dangerous Urban Runoff?
There is no way to avoid having rainwater run into our storm drains. In fact, that is where it is designed to go. However, we can do our part to avoid having the rainwater carry dangerous pollutants with it. What are some of the things you can do?
Clean up after your pets when they go to the bathroom outdoors. Carry a plastic bag with you and dispose of the waste properly. Animal waste is a major cause of high bacterial levels in the water.
Don’t apply fertilizer or pesticides just before rain is predicted, and never use these products while it is raining. Whenever possible, use the least amount of these products possible, and use non-toxic products when they are available.
Don’t over water your plants. The excess water is just wasted, and will flow out of your yard and into the nearest storm drain. In addition, if you have recently fertilized or used pesticides on your plants, the water from your sprinklers will just carry these contaminates into the storm gutter.
Don’t use a hose and wash your pet outside. Even some biodegradable pet soaps and shampoos can be harmful to marine life and the environment. In addition, flea control and other products that you use on your pet should also be kept out of the storm drain system. It is better to bathe your pet indoors, where the water will go into the indoor sewer system and be filtered and treated at the water treatment plant.
Do NOT pour used oil and antifreeze onto the ground or into the gutter. These products are hazardous, and every effort should be made to keep them out of our water system. Instead, recycle these products by taking them to designated recycling centers. If you do not know where the nearest one is, call your local car dealership or auto repair shop and ask if you can bring them your used oil and antifreeze, or if they know of a place where it can be recycled.
Limit the amount of water that runs into the gutter by being careful with the water you use around the house. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway and sidewalks. Use a bucket to wash your car instead of letting water run freely from a hose. Do not use toxic products or even an excess amount of soap when you wash your car at home. Taking your car to a car wash is actually better for the environment, because most car washes have special systems that reclaim the used the water, and prevent the water from running continually into the storm drain system.
Don’t litter. Dispose of trash in a trash can. Heavy amounts of trash in the gutter can cause the storm drain system to get clogged and water can back up into the street, causing flooding. In addition, many types of trash can be dangerous to fish and sea birds. If you don’t want to swim with it the next time you are at the beach, don’t throw it in the gutter or out your car window.
Our local water department has a slogan: Remember, the Ocean Begins At Your Front Door.
(Source: City of Laguna Woods “Water Words”)
If you are interested in more ways to keep our families, home and environment healthy, you may also want to read the following articles:
For More Scientific Information on Water Pollution
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