April showers bring May flowers - and opportunities to care for clean water
Warm spring rains are greening up the grass and helping coax out reluctant buds and flowers. They are also washing pollutants off streets to local water bodies, and eroding bare soil. Each spring brings a new opportunity for caring for the lakes, creeks, and wetlands we love.
Over the winter, dirt and debris build up on streets and in parking lots. Rain and melting snow can wash this material down storm drains and into nearby ponds, lakes, and other water bodies. You probably know that fertilizer, motor oil, and trash are harmful types of pollution. But, did you know that leaves, grass clippings and dirt also cause problems for our waters? That's because this yard waste contains phosphorus, a chemical that feeds algae growth.
Too much algae can turn our waters green, lower the amount of oxygen in the water, and even be toxic for pets and humans. In addition, excess dirt can cloud the water, making it hard for organisms to breath and find food. Luckily, there are steps we can each take to help protect the waters we care for.
1. Adopt a Drain
The storm drains in our parking lots and streets lead to water bodies. They help reduce flooding by moving water off of hard surfaces to ponds, wetlands, lakes and creeks. However, that also means that anything that gets pickup up by rain water and goes down a storm drain also ends up in those water bodies. You can help protect clean water by cleaning up dirt and debris from the curb near your home before it reaches a drain. Make sure to take safety precautions like wearing gloves and bright clothes, and avoiding busy streets. Want to make it official? The watershed district is partnering with the new metro-wide Adopt-a-Drain program. Sign up to adopt a stormdrain at adopt-a-drain.org, track your impact, and see who else is taking action in your community. (Read more!)
2. Let green grass grow
Most turf grass is a combination of kentucky bluegrasses and ryegrass, with some fescues. These grasses tend to have short roots, and are susceptible to drought and weed competition. The simple act of letting your grass grow longer though can make a difference. Allowing grass to grow to 3 inches or more helps the roots grow longer, slows down stormwater flowing over it, and can encourages more water to soak into the ground. Find more mowing tips for healthy lawns from University of Minnesota Extension here.
3. Convert unhappy turf
Are there parts of your yard where, like the photo on the left, it is a struggle to get turf grass to grow? How about hillsides you hate mowing, or areas that just don't get used for anything? It might be time to try something new. Consider converting turf in these areas to low-mow lawns, bee friendly lawns, or to native plants. Want to learn more? Join us and our partners Nine Mile Creek Watershed District, and Carver County Water Management Organization for a turf alternatives workshop: Sustainable Lawns - Fescues and Flowers. More info...
4. Watch your water
Step outside and look around. Where do the downspouts on your home or building end? A hard surface, like a sidewalk or driveway? By redirecting these downspouts to your lawn, you can help soak more water into the ground and filter out pollutants. Want to take a step further and create a rain garden? The watershed district has grants you can apply for to help make your clean water project idea a reality. More info...