Watershed News: Does it Really Matter What I Do? YES!

By: Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. 

Does it really matter what I do?

The short answer is YES.  Reducing impacts on our environment has to be a collective initiative and every single person and the changes they make will have an impact. In past articles, I’ve focused on what agencies are doing to understand watershed issues and work towards protection. Today and next week, I’ll focus on ideas that we, as watershed citizens, can all do.

One of the common concerns I hear is whether septic systems are having an impact on water quality. If not properly maintained, septic systems can pollute the lake with phosphates and bacteria. Grease, oils, harsh cleaners and supposedly “disposable” personal products can really stress out a septic system, clog it up and reduce its efficiency. Follow this mantra: “If in doubt, don’t pour it out”.  A septic system needs regular check ups and pump outs and needs to be large enough in size for the home it is servicing.

Reducing or completely eliminating fertilizer is an important consideration for everyone, no matter where you are located.  Whether you have shoreline property or not, fertilizer will find its way to the lake or river either as direct runoff at the shoreline or via storm drains.  The phosphorus in fertilizer feeds algae in the lake, so it’s best to minimize or avoid use or better yet, switch to phosphorus-free fertilizer.  When you are in the store, look for a “zero” in the middle of the three numbers on the fertilizer bag.

Keep used oil, household cleaners, paints, bug sprays and other hazardous waste out of the landfill and out of the lake.  Take these items to a hazardous waste collection depot to be recycled or disposed of properly and don’t allow any spilled materials to be washed down your driveway, where it can find it’s way to the nearest water body.

Why not grab your neighbours and all the kids and walk around the block to collect garbage?  What a great way to educate your children that throwing trash out in the environment is not a good choice and that, together, good work can get done fast.

Plant a tree!  Trees and shrubs act as natural filters and stabilizers to limit runoff and reduce soil erosion.  Soils that contain phosphorus, if eroded and washed into the lake or river, will contribute to the nutrient load.

Stay tuned for more ideas next week – pick one or two of these ideas to put into action this fall!

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com).