Tips for Residents:
Keeping Your Stream Healthy


University of Wisconsin, 1999

  Motor oil and antifreeze
Even in low concentrations these automotive products are extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic wildlife (one gallon of gasoline can contaminate five million gallons of water). Never dump gasoline, motor oil, antifreeze, battery acid, or other automotive fluids into a stream or storm drain. Place used motor oil or antifreeze in sturdy, sealed containers, caps taped down, and recycle through your local collection program or recycling depot. Many communities have curbside oil recycling collection or antifreeze collection services. Check with your local Environmental Management Council, Soil and Water Conservation District, or Cooperative Extension for more information about recycling these products.

  Paints, thinners, and other solvents
Improperly disposed paint products also cause harm to fish, wildlife, and people. Use up leftover paints, or share with a friend or neighbor. Dispose of unusable paints and paint products at your local household hazardous waste facility. Do not clean brushes in a gutter or near a storm drain or stream. Use water-based latex paints whenever possible. They are less toxic than oil-based paints, thinners, and turpentine -- and they can be recycled. Small amounts of leftover paint may be air-dried in cans and discarded in the garbage. Paint thinners should be filtered and re-used. Dispose of residue at a hazardous waste collection facility or event – contact the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency for collection dates.

  Never dump water from carpet cleaning into a stream or storm drain.
Carpet cleaning chemicals are detrimental to streams. If you purchase biodegradable/nontoxic carpet cleaner you can dispose of it down the toilet.  If not, you should dispose of the waste at your local household hazardous waste clean-up day.  If you use the services of a carpet cleaning company, make sure they do not dispose of the water in a stream or storm drain.

Cornell University, WRI, 1998       

  Avoid hosing down paved surfaces or washing your car on a paved driveway or street.
Even biodegradable soaps are toxic to fish and wildlife. Wash cars on a lawn or unpaved area, or use a commercial car wash.  If your wash water is allowed to run down the street it will eventually find its way into a storm drain and the local water body.

  Clean automobile spills using "dry" clean-up methods.
Use cat litter or other absorbent materials to remove spills from paved surfaces. Depending on the substance spilled, dispose of absorbent materials in the garbage can or at a hazardous waste collection site. If you must use water in a final clean-up step, direct the flow to a lawn area -- not the street, gutter, or storm drain.  Again, the residential storm drain network (gutter, streets, and storm drains) are designed to carry water to your local water body.
  Practice stream-safe swimming pool and spa maintenance techniques.
Chlorine and copper algaecides used in pools and spas are toxic to aquatic organisms and wildlife. Pool and spa water should never be drained to the street, gutter, or storm drain. Contact your local wastewater treatment plant before discharging this water into the sewer line.
 The best way to drain your pool or spa is to let the chlorine dissipate by allowing the water to sit for up to two weeks and then drain onto landscaping. If you cannot allow the pool to sit, add sodium bisulfate in the amount suggested on the label. Do not use copper-based algaecides. Proper chlorination should take care of algae problems. If you use a pool service, discuss safe pool cleaning methods with them.

Rain barrel for
storing roof runoff

(Ecocity Cleveland, 2003)

  Check rain gutters and other pipes to see where they drain. Make sure they do not carry water directly into a nearby stream.
Runoff from roof surfaces contributes to the decline of stream health. Pipes projecting directly into a stream bank or flexible pipes allowed to drape down a bank cause erosion. Consider using cisterns, on-site filtration (gravel areas), or gray-water systems to capture roof run-off.  This will also allow for the filtration of toxic roof chemicals before they reach the local stream or lake.

  Carefully remove trash, litter, and other dumped debris from the stream.
Unfortunately, some people think of streams as garbage dumps. You don’t have to look far to find old shopping carts, used appliances, mattresses, car parts, bottles, cans, plastic, styrofoam and paper litter. This debris can become a hazard during floods. It can be a potential threat to our groundwater quality and provide breeding places for rodents and mosquitoes. If you need help cleaning up the stream, contact some of the organizations listed on the back page for ideas and assistance.

  Test your underground storage tank (UST) periodically.
If your home has an UST for heating oil, this is a potential source of water pollution. Early leak detection is your best protection against costly clean-ups and sickness. A tank tightness test should be performed periodically, especially on older tanks and those near a waterway. Signs of a leak are unusual amounts of water in the tank, unusual odors in the water supply, petroleum in the basement, malfunctioning heating systems, dead or dying vegetation near tanks or an increase in fuel use.

  Practice Proper Septic System Management
Maintenance is the best way to keep a system working properly for a long time.

Septic System Maintenance Tips
1. Know the components of your septic system; keep heavy vehicles away from the system.
2. Don’t plant trees or shrubs near drain tiles since their roots can clog drain lines.
3. Dispose of household chemicals properly – do not pour them down the toilet or drain; they can destroy the bacteria in your septic tank.
4. Distribute your laundry chores throughout the week to avoid overloading the system on any given day.
5. Don’t use garbage disposals.  They contribute unnecessary solids and grease to your septic system.
6. Conserve water whenever and wherever possible.
7. Don’t use toilets as trash cans.
8. Avoid septic tank additives, there is no scientific evidence that additives are effective.
9. Monitor your septic tank yearly and have a reputable contractor remove sludge three to five years.  This will help avoid overloading your system and the costly repairs that follow (look in yellow pages under septic for a list of local haulers).
10. Grass on the surface of the absorption field should be mowed regularly to promote evapotranspiration and transpiration.

For more tips on Septic Systems, visit this EPA page.

EMC materials developed by Dave Burns, Watershed Coordinator, Dutchess County Environmental Management Council.
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