Reducing Your Impact on Oregon’s Waterways from Home

World Water Day is this Sunday, March 22, and even as we’re adapting to a new normal of social distancing and working from home, there are lots of ways that you can do your part to protect our air, land and water.

For those that are able to stay home from work and have a place to hole up in, take this moment of shifting routines to establish some new habits, fix leaky faucets and do the small things that add up for our rivers, drinking water and wildlife dependent on clean, clear water.

1. Turn off the tap.

Drought.gov

For starters, use less water while you’re sudsing up. According to Drought.gov, 41 percent of Oregon’s population is currently in moderate drought and has been for most of the winter. Running the tap for 20 seconds wastes precious water and energy. The average American can save at least 6 gallons of water per day by turning off the tap while you scrub. As climate change exacerbates these challenges, water conservation is a year-round commitment in all parts of our state.

Here are more tips for turning off the tap from NC State University.

2. Reduce household chemicals that end up down the drain.

Our wastewater treatment systems were developed to treat sewage and pathogens, but we don’t have the technology to keep up with emerging contaminants found in today’s bath and body products and cleaning supplies. These items often contain toxic chemicals we don’t want to end up in our water supply, but because we use many of these products daily in the shower and to keep our homes clean, they are building up in our environment.

Switching to more eco-friendly products doesn’t have to mean a trip to the store. You likely have the things you need for green disinfecting already around the house. Check out OEC’s Eco-Healthy Homes Guide for Personal Care Products and Green Cleaning to lower your chemical footprint on our rivers and oceans.

And here’s the latest on Green Disinfecting from OEC’s Environmental Health Program Director, Jamie Pang: OEC’s Guide to Green Disinfecting.

3. Watch what you flush.

But it says “flushable” on the package! I’m sorry to report that personal wipes, cotton swabs and feminine products are not flushable – no matter what manufacturers say. In January of this year, raw sewage spilled into Mill Creek because of a blockage of “flushable” wipes just outside of Salem in the city of Turner.

Your wastewater provider has probably been begging you to stop flushing anything other than toilet paper in those newsletters you recycle quarterly. If you’re not going to do it for the sewer scuba divers that have to clean out these blockages, do it for the whales and wildlife. Not only is it expensive for you and time-intensive for water agencies, but these “blobs” cause plastic pollution and harmful sewage overflows that dump pathogens, excess nutrients, heavy metals and other toxins in our rivers, affecting everyone and everything downstream.

4. Get some fresh air and clean out your storm drain.

Our yards and city streets have a huge impact on rivers and wildlife. A Seattle study showed that stormwater runoff is so poisonous to coho salmon that it can kill adult fish in as little as 2.5 hours. When rainwater runs off our roofs and city streets, it picks up harmful pollutants, trash and debris. Rain gardens and bioswales are designed to help filter this dirty stormwater rather than sending it directly into storm sewers or nearby streams, but some of it will still end up in local waterways. You can help manage the impacts of stormwater by keeping the storm drain on the corner of your street clear of trash and leaves that could end up in the river, picking up garbage found on streets and in local bioswales, and disconnecting your downspouts from the sewer system (where it’s allowed by your local Planning Department).

5. Start planning your native plant, low-water, low-chemical garden.Backyard Garden

The choices you make in your yard can make a big difference to the health of local streams, wildlife and our drinking water. So before you spray weed killer or reseed your lawn this spring, consider designing a low-maintenance landscape that conserves water, reduces pollution, and attracts beneficial wildlife. You can even develop a rain garden to help collect all of that stormwater that will do double duty for your garden and the broader community.

Even if you can’t go to the hardware store or plant nursery right now, you can reduce chemical use and start planning your landscape for clean water and healthy habitats.

These five actions may seem small in isolation, but they will have a significant impact on our rivers and water supplies if we all commit to them this World Water Day.

We are facing unprecedented changes in our daily lives and hardships for many families, but the work of Oregon Environmental Council is one thing that can adapt. Democracy doesn’t stop, and your actions don’t have to either.

Join Oregonians from across the state as we celebrate our common interest in preserving the water we drink, play in, live near and rely on. Add your #MyWaterWhy to the map at oregonworldwaterday.org.

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