Have you ever seen fish swimming in a pond? Or watched a deer drinking from the creek? Or watched a frog jump into the lake when startled? These are just a few of the hundreds of species that live in and use our local water systems. We also have a huge impact on our local water systems and the wildlife that live in them. Unfortunately, that influence isn’t always a good one. Runoff from garden fertilizers, litter, and improper disposal of chemicals can all be very harmful to our local waterways. Fortunately, by making a few simple changes you can make a difference for the good of the plants and animals in these water systems!
Fertilizers help our gardens and yards grow lush and vibrant. However, the runoff from these fertilizers may contain harmful chemicals and result in excessive nutrients, impacting the local water systems. The most common nutrients fertilizers supply are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. When these fertilizers supply more of these than the plants can absorb, they are incorporated into the groundwater supply or run off the lawn and enter local water systems.
Excess amounts of any of these nutrients can cause imbalances to the water and impact the local ecology. High amounts of nitrogen can cause major algal blooms which may eventually result in the death of most of the local plant and animal species in that pond or lake through a process called eutrophication. (Want to learn more about eutrophication? Check out this video and article from the National Ocean Service!)
High levels of dissolved nitrates from run-off can also be directly harmful to fish, livestock, and humans who use these water systems if they accumulate to toxic levels. Nitrates can be especially harmful to ruminants like cows and deer as nitrate becomes nitrite in the rumen, and causes death by inhibiting the blood from carrying oxygen, result in suffocation.
Litter is another problem happening in the waterways around us. What may seem like one piece of trash to one person over time becomes a significant issue. We know wildlife may consume trash, thinking it is food. Drains become blocked adding to flooding and the beautiful features that make up our community start to resemble the dump. Take the time to dispose of your waste properly and pick up litter when you see it.
Another hazard to waterways can be found right in your own home. While many household cleaners are formulated to go down the drain, there are some items that should never go down the drain. This includes paint, motor oil, medication, pesticides, and others. Check out the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy for more information on how to dispose of household items. https://www.michigan.gov/egle/0,9429,7-135-3312_4118-70304–,00.html#Cleansers
This Earth Month, we would like to challenge you to make greener and cleaner choices! When using fertilizer for your garden, buy natural fertilizers or start composting at home to make your own. Slow-release fertilizers are a great option as they release nutrients at a slower interval to avoid overwhelming the groundwater system. During spring cleaning, be sure to dispose of household waste in a way that keeps local waterways safe. Consider making your own cleaners at home, to further reduce your footprint.
By making greener choices like these you can protect local wildlife and water systems from the adverse effects of chemical runoff. Your help makes a difference!
Check out the links below for more articles and information on how to help your local water systems!
EPA article on Identifying Greener Cleaning Products
United States Department of Agriculture
National Ocean Service: Eutrophication