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This Week in the Watershed

Trading Bad Habits for Better Water

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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Litter, which often finds its way into local waterways, is high on the list of environmental pet peeves among CBF staff. Photo by Krista Schyler/iLCP.

Why is it that, while watering a lawn, people allow lots of water to hit the street, sidewalk, anywhere but the lawn? It happens a lot with automatic sprinklers.

Why do they cut down street trees that infringe on sidewalks, but aren't diseased or otherwise a nuisance or danger?

Leaf blowers! They're noisy and leave drains clogged. Why not mulch the leaves with a lawnmower?

While venting about such annoyances helps clear our mind in a therapeutic sort of way, correcting such nuisances can, more importantly, clean our water.

The Environmental Protection Agency reminded us recently that Pennsylvania is still significantly behind in meeting its Clean Water Blueprint commitments to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in local rivers and streams.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation staffers in Pennsylvania shared some of their own pollution pet peeves, so that we might all consider some easy solutions that will reduce harmful runoff and address other practices that are damaging our waterways.

It peeves Emily "when people go out to 'enjoy' our waterways by fishing, paddling, and end up leaving behind their beer cans, trash, fishing line, etc.," she says. "If you can carry it in, please pack it out."

B.J. would like his neighbors to stop mowing their grass clippings into the street. "Are they too lazy to rake them up? Now the clippings may not only clog the storm drain, they add damaging nitrogen to the water. These are the same neighbors, by the way, who blow the snow from their sidewalks into the street in the wintertime, creating more stormwater runoff."

Bill says he has gone to great lengths with local township supervisors to slow the permitting of additional trucking warehouses/distribution centers in the Carlisle area. "In addition to the devastating diesel truck air pollution, another exhaust gas emission, nitrogen oxide, fills the air and is a source of the nitrogen pollution of local waters and the Chesapeake Bay," he adds.

Kelly O. notes that "When Harrisburg has heavy rains beyond what our ancient stormwater infrastructure can handle, raw sewage mixes with it and goes into the river. That includes everything that people flush down their toilets, like paper and pharmaceuticals," she says.

Ashley says litter is a huge concern, especially in Lancaster City. "It's a lack of common sense when people put out the trash. It's not tied down properly so it blows everywhere," she says. "Street cleaning is also important for a city and most people don't move their cars or care about it. It needs to happen to keep pollution out of the storm drains."

"The amount of excess salt applied to sidewalks and roads during a snowstorm," bothers Brent. "I understand this is a safety issue if the roads and sidewalks are icy, but I believe de-icing could be accomplished with less salt applied and in a more environmentally-friendly ways."

Clair isn't happy with people who don't pick up after their dogs. "Besides leaving landmines that everyone else walking in the neighborhood needs to dodge," she says, "animal waste left on sidewalks and lawns eventually washes into storm drains and then into local waters, contributing harmful bacteria that raises human health risks."

Frank wishes people would stop littering with their cigarette butts. "They end up in streams, storm drains and elsewhere," he says. "I do not enjoy it when I am fishing and a cigarette butt floats by me or I see one on the streambank. Having to put up with the stench of cigarettes is bad enough but seeing them in the water is even worse."

In fact, the same carcinogenic compounds in cigarettes that can cause disease in humans, leach into the water, some of which could be sources of drinking water.

About 19,000 miles of Commonwealth rivers and streams are polluted, and as we all have a stake in clean water, there is a lot of work ahead. People and government need to do their parts. Pennsylvania has a Blueprint to restore local waterways and we all need to make sure it's implemented.

Correcting our pollution pet peeves by working with others who are often at the root of them, can produce the legacy of clean water that we all deserve.

—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director

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