Have you ever wondered why the Chesapeake Bay, our rivers, and oceans have become so polluted? One main reason is that we have been abusing our landscapes for many years. We have been abusing our landscapes with excessive applications of fertilizers, toxic chemicals such as herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides, clearing the land of all or most of its vegetation, built a lot of impermeable surfaces, and installed much lawn. (1) All of these practices harm our natural ecosystems and creates problematic runoff that eventually finds its way to our waterways downstream. Unnatural petroleum derived fertilizers typically are not fully used in the landscape where they are applied, and instead are washed away when it rains. Toxic chemicals do not stay where they are applied; rather, they are also washed away with rainfall. When land is cleared of its vegetation, the fabric that held the soil is no longer there so sediment will flow downstream. Impermeable surfaces like pavement and buildings create more runoff since rainwater cannot go through them. Having a lawn creates more runoff of oil and gas from lawn mowers, and fertilizers and chemicals.
The good news is that there are solutions to minimize or negate these deleterious effects. First, we can reduce the runoff from our properties through grading to keep water on site, creating rain gardens, and installing rain barrels and cisterns. Secondly, we can limit or halt the creation of harmful runoff in the first place. So, we can limit our fertilizer use and use only organic fertilizer, stop using harmful chemicals, stop clearing land, stop creating additional impermeable surfaces, replace impermeable surfaces with permeable surfaces and natural systems like green roofs, limit or remove lawn areas, and create more native plant gardens. When we take these protective measures, we will create cleaner water both here in our back yard and for all of the world’s waterways.