A Watershed Moment

Thinking Green

By John Coleman

A Watershed Moment

Take Action to Protect Local Watersheds

Non-point source pollution is the enemy! Before moving back to Fayetteville in 2007, I worked on stormwater issues in the Washington D.C. metro area (Chesapeake Bay), the Mississippi River Delta and Austin, Texas. All of these places are dealing with significant stormwater pollution, but only the smallest of percentages comes from a large factory or rogue company. The overwhelming majority comes from the massive parking lots, over-fertilized lawns or fields, and rooftops of small businesses and homes. 

It’s called “non-point source” because an engineer obviously labeled it before a marketing specialist could get a hold of it, but also because instead of large volumes coming from a single location, it is thousands of locations each contributing a small amount of pollution. The shear number spread out over large acres of land eventually overcomes a watershed’s ability to cope with the pollution. This eventually leads to large costs for local governments, the local water supplier and eventually you.

We are all responsible in some shape or form for this problem, and since it impacts our drinking water supply (Beaver Lake) and our pocketbooks then we all have a stake in correcting the problem. 

The key to eliminating pollution is to limit stormwater runoff in the first place. This may seem counterintuitive with all of the money invested on infrastructure to carry water off of properties, but in reality it is better for the water to be absorbed by on-site vegetation and soils. Unfortunately, most housing developments are constructed to get water off the property as quickly as possible so the homeowner can then turn on the sprinkler and water the lawn with drinkable water. That makes much more sense…ha!

So I set out to create a positive example using my recently-purchased home on Washington Avenue as a test bed. As my sister says, I’m a bit of a dork like that.

I created a compost pile last fall mixing leaves and organics (apple cores, egg shells, banana peals, etc). With weekly additions of organics and turning of the pile, I had incredibly rich compost by spring. As it started to warm in March I went out to my neglected backyard and raked all of the bare spots, and mixed in the compost with some rye grass seed. By May, the grass filled in most of the yard and now soaks up the majority of the rain when it hits the ground. 

At the same time my wife planted several “raised-bed gardens” to grow some vegetables. The raised-beds eliminate the weeds, absorb an incredible amount of rainwater, and grow fresh vegetables with very little maintenance required. We also collect rainwater in two rain barrels in the back which allows us to water the gardens without using drinkable water from the faucet.

Finally, we have created a buffer zone between our yard and the stream in the back. This zone has a thicker stand of grass and plants that can absorb even greater amounts of water and purify runoff before it enters the stream. If any rain water does reach the stream from our yard it will have traveled across a yard with no chemicals or fertilizer, thick grass, and a buffer zone; therefore having little, if any, adverse impact on the watershed.

These are all very simple methods for reducing your personal impact on the watershed. It takes some thought and a little patience, but together we can reduce the environmental and economic impact on ourselves and the region.

Categories: Commentary