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How to Be a Good Neighbor in Your Watershed

Eleven things you can do at home

December 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Because everyone lives in a watershed, everyone has a role to play in keeping water clean. Here are a few sound tips that the Institute has collected from a variety of sources to help property owners improve their stewardship:

• Maintain septic systems and pump out septic tanks, especially on property close to lakes and streams, at least every two years.

• Plant strips of vegetation and shrubs along waterways to prevent erosion and filter storm water.

• Reduce erosion during construction by installing silt fences and preserving buffer strips of vegetation between the site and surface water.

• Do not dispose of yard waste in waterways. Decomposing plant material depletes oxygen in the water and deposits nutrients that speed the growth of unwanted aquatic plants. Compost yard waste instead -- shred the woody materials -- and in a few months you'll have "black gold" for garden plants.

• Protect wetlands on your property through a conservation easement granted to a local government or nonprofit group.

• Use organic fertilizers and non-toxic pest-control methods for lawns and gardens.

• Rely on non-toxic alternatives to household hazardous chemicals. Good books on the subject are Clean and Green by Annie Berthold-Bond, and Nontoxic, Natural, and Earthwise by Debra Lynn Dadd. The City of San Francisco's water pollution prevention program has an excellent guide called "Clean It" on the Internet. The Web address is www.ci.sf.ca.us/puc/consumer/cleanit/cleantx.html. You also can join Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, a national consumers organization, and receive the Green Guide newsletter by calling toll-free 1-888-ECO-INFO.

• Properly dispose of leftover hazardous chemicals you may have around the house, such as oil-based paints and oven cleaners. Contact your city or county solid waste department to find out the collection days in your area for household hazardous waste.

• Direct rain gutters to unpaved areas where storm water runoff can soak into the ground.

• Conserve water. Turn off faucets when brushing your teeth, and install low-flow showerheads and toilet tank baffles.

• Join a watershed protection group. See the sources below, and in the article on pages 32-33. Sources: Fleming Creek Advisory Council, 734-769-5971; Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative, 616-935- 1514; Grand Valley State University Water Resources Institute 616-895-3749; Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, 616-347-1181.

Tapping Into the Network

To find the watershed protection group nearest you, check the Michigan Watershed home page on the Internet, which is a link from the home page of the DEQ's Surface Water Quality Division. The address for the list of community organizations is: www.deq.state.mi.us/swq/watershed/ws-org.htm.

Another excellent source is the new Michigan River Network. This clearinghouse is just getting off the ground. For now it is housed at the offices of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Conway. Interim coordinator Scott McEwen says the network is in the process of developing its own Web site, hiring a director, and planning training events. For more information contact him at 616-347-1181, E-mail water@freeway.net.


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