What Have We Done To Our Water?

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A buffer strip along Lake Superior

This morning I was walking a bridge crossing the Big Blue River in Nebraska.  Never have I seen a river so full of sediment!  The name “Big Blue” was full of irony for me.  I know many of the local water sources in this area of Nebraska are poisoned with nitrates, and children should not be drinking this water. Farming areas of Iowa and Minnesota are having the same water pollution problem. The major source of nitrates are fertilizers on farm fields, and farmers are not regulated by the Clean Water Act. We are all guilty of dirty water and can do much better at protecting our waters.  The run-off from our houses, driveways and roads are major contributors to our polluted lakes rivers and streams.  Farmers need to better, but so do all of us!

10 actions you can take to improve lakes, rivers and streams from Hennepin County.

When it rains, the storm water that runs off driveways, lawns, houses and parking lots can carry pollutants like oil, paint and chemicals down storm sewers and into nearby lakes, streams and rivers. By taking the following easy, no-cost or low-cost steps, you can have a big impact on reducing runoff and protecting our water resources and wildlife habitat. Hennepin County

 

1. Use your runoff

You can keep water in your yard and reduce runoff by directing downspouts onto your lawn or garden or into a rain barrel. Rainwater is free and naturally “soft,” so it is ideal to use in watering your lawn or garden.

2. Don’t rake grass clippings and leaves into the street

Leave them on your lawn, use them for compost, or bag them up. Grass clippings and leaves left in the street end up in the storm sewer, where they are carried to nearby lakes and streams. Clippings and leaves contain phosphorus and other nutrients that feed algae and other aquatic plants. This can cause excess algae growth that can negatively impact other plants and wildlife and can be unsafe for pets.

3. Scoop the poop

Grab a bag when you grab the leash and pick up after your pets. Pet waste left on the ground can be washed into lakes and rivers with rainwater and runoff. Pet waste contains bacteria that can cause illness in humans and animals.

4. Use chemicals wisely

Read and follow the label instructions when using herbicides and pesticides. Use the minimum amount needed to control the problem. If you can, consider using alternative or natural remedies to control weeds and pests, or remove the problem by hand.

5. Fertilize smart

Sweep up any fertilizer that spills onto hard surfaces. Excess fertilizer washes away into nearby lakes or streams where it can feed algae, causing rapid growth known as algae blooms. Algae blooms stress fish and wildlife and make swimming and fishing unpleasant or impossible.

6. Keep a healthy lawn

A healthy, vigorous lawn needs less watering, fewer chemicals and less maintenance. Aerate your lawn periodically to loosen the soil. Seed bare patches to prevent erosion and soil loss. Mow at a higher setting. Grass mowed to a height of 2 ½ to 3 inches develops deeper, healthier roots and has a competitive advantage over weeds.

7. Plant a rain garden

Rain gardens are depressions planted with a diverse mix of native wildflowers and grasses

Rain gardens collect water run-off
Rain gardens collect water run-off

designed to collect rainwater and allow it to soak into the soil. This will reduce the water running off your property into storm sewers.

8. Replace turf with native plants

Swap some of your high-maintenance lawn for low-maintenance native ground cover, plants or grasses. Many native plants develop deeper root structures than turf grass, which reduces runoff by allowing for better water infiltration.

Deep-rooted plants absorb more water than turf grass
Deep-rooted plants absorb more water than turf grass

9. Reduce your footprint

Replace some pavement – such as a walk, patio or driveway – with pavers or pervious pavement. The porous surface will allow water to seep through.

10. Adopt a storm drain

Keep neighborhood storm drains free of leaves, seeds and grass clippings. Storm drains are directly connected to nearby water bodies. Water running into storm drains can carry with it anything dumped nearby including leaves, grass clippings, soil, oil, paint and chemicals. Keeping storm drains clear will protect the water quality of nearby lakes, streams and rivers.

***If you own property on a lake, pond, river or stream you should install a tree and plant buffer strip to keep pollutants from running into the water.

Minnesota Public Radio is doing a fabulous series on protecting our water. More from MPR here.

Another list of ways to protect our water from the NRDC.

The sun makes the Big Blue look blue. It is thick with sediment.
The sun makes the Big Blue look blue. It is thick with sediment.
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The Mississippi River, Everyone’s Responsibility!

“Minneapolis, On the banks of the Minnehaha Creek!” Garrison Keillor

Materials for recycling pulled from the banks of the Minnehaha Creek
Materials for recycling pulled from the banks of the Minnehaha Creek

This blog is in response to an article on buffers along streams and rivers:

http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/health/256920531.html

Water, Our most valuable resource! It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep our rivers, lakes and oceans clean! Living in the City of Lakes, Minneapolis, and the first major city draining streams into the Mississippi River, we take our relationship with water quality seriously. I have an easy way for those lucky enough to live along a stream, river or lake to create sustainable pollinator habitat and keep our waters clean.

The Minnehaha Creek, a few blocks from my home is often part of my walks, bird watching and litter pick up. This Creek runs through south Minneapolis, and flows into the Mississippi River. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul sit on the banks of the Mississippi River which divides them into two cities. Last weekend my neighborhood, boy scouts and high school students did a big clean up of the creek. Every piece of litter we picked up was one more piece kept out of the Mississippi River and possibly the Gulf of Mexico.

It is also important to keep pollutants from running into the creek.  Cleaning storm drains, installing rain barrels, rain gardens, and redirecting drain spouts are initiatives we promote in trying to do our best for the mighty Mississippi.

What is the problem? I was sad to read that some that farmers and others that live along water ways are not following Minnesota law to keep our rivers clean. Minnesota has a state law that requires farmers and others to create small 50 foot buffers of grasses, trees or shrubs along creeks and rivers to keep pollutants from washing into the rivers and lakes.

What can you do? An easy way to create and maintain these buffers is to plant a 50 foot strip of native plants. Why native plants in these buffer zones? Native plants have deep root structures that keep the soil in place and filter contaminants.  Planting buffers of natives would build habitat for our struggling bees and butterflies, and keep our streams and lakes nitrate and phosphorous free. It’s a win-win! Unfortunately, the buffer law isn’t enforced like it should be.  Many don’t like government regulation, well then…. Take responsibility to protect of our water from pollutants.

What are some plants to use? I would recommend seeding the buffer area with native perennials that take care of themselves.  Some of following natives would be great water filters and create bee and butterfly habitat: Golden Alexander, swamp milkweed, Culver’s root, bee balm, little blue stem, cone flowers, vervain, asters, golden rod and any native sedges.  Purchase seeds from http://www.prairiemoon.com/   Native plants are almost maintenance free once they start growing. Mowing in the spring, just once a year, would keep out trees.  Good Luck!

 

http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/health/256920531.html  (Drainage buffers needed)

Plant Blue Flag Iris and native grasses to filter water run off.
Plant Blue Flag Iris, sedges and native grasses to filter water run off.

http://www.minneapolismn.gov/publicworks/stormwater/green/stormwater_green-initiatives_rain-barrel

http://www.prairiemoon.com/

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/restoreyourshore/pg/npc.html

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/restoreyourshore/st/bufferzone.html