Water Pollution Connections: Part 1 of 2

Fish mural on Belair Rd bridge.

[Note: This post was written by Dana Puzey, program manager for the Water Audit program, and is the first of a two-part series on how you can reduce your ecological footprint as an individual.]

When you are tuned into local environmental issues, you hear the rallying cries against water pollution all the time: Save the Chesapeake BayFishable, Swimmable Harbor; bring the herring back to Herring Run. To get there, many different actors will have a part to play in improving the quality of our watersheds:  governments at all levels, businesses, communities, and individuals.

As individuals, it is sometimes easy to feel powerless when, in reality, it is the opposite situation: eradicating water pollution ultimately all depends upon each of us.

It is the action, or inaction, of the 17 million residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed that will ultimately decide the fate of our waterways. One way to restore our waterways is to remember that they are precisely that, our waterways. Regardless of our motivation, we are responsible for protecting and restoring them.

With that in mind, I’ve chosen to highlight a few connections to water use and healthy waterways that we often overlook as well as a few actions you can take to help you on your way to becoming a more responsible Chesapeake Bay watershed resident. Lucky for you, these suggestions are not only good for the environment, they are good for your health and your wallet.

Transportation – Nitrogen is one of the top pollutants threatening our waterways because it promotes algal growth, which depletes oxygen in the water and leads to “dead zones.” We often talk about the excess nitrogen that runs off of our lawns, but it is also true that vehicle emissions are one of the top contributors to man-made atmospheric nitrogen. To top it all off, atmospheric nitrogen then comes down in the rain and as a result is estimated to account for at least one third of all nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay.

What you can do:

  • If you drive, clump your trips to minimize driving time and fuel use
  • Whenever possible, walk, bike, or carpool to your destination
Photo Credit: pluginamerica.org

Water, Water, Everywhere – As a nation, we use water at a phenomenal rate. Even when we don’t realize it, we are using water. As little as five percent of your daily water consumption is for household use such as washing and flushing. Most of the rest of your water consumption goes into producing all the goods and services you use every day. Water is used in all types of manufacturing, food processing, crop irrigation, and much more. Not to mention that every time you turn on the lights you use water and every time you use water you use electricity, thereby using more water. The two are intimately related. Remember that each gallon of water you use at the house was treated and pumped before it came our of the tap, and each gallon that goes down the drain pipe will have to be pumped and treated again! Learn more about the water energy nexus and water use.

What you can do:

These are just a few ideas to get you started, but there is always more. In my next blog post, I’ll focus on reducing runoff from your home, one of the most important things you can do at home to protect and restore our waterways.

Didn’t get enough? Here is another list of water pollution tips to keep you going.

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