To keep our Great Lakes and waterways clean and healthy, we can all do something everyday that can have a big impact. Each one of us can take simple steps to help make Buffalo and our local waterways safe and clean.
1. Don’t litter
Clean streets equals clean water. During a sewer overflow, litter like plastic bags, candy wrappers, and cigarette butts can run directly into the Lake and Rivers. They can end up on our beaches and shores as well as add dangerous chemicals and bacteria to our water. Deposit trash in proper receptacles, reuse and recycle when possible, pick up litter or participate in a cleanup event with your Block Club or Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. Never dump anything down storm drains; clean up storm drains by clearing them of leaves, grass clippings, and litter. Sweep and bag them up before they end up down the drain. These materials contain chemicals and nutrients that can harm our waterways and wildlife. Clogged storm drains also cause flooding of local streets.
2. Refuse to use disposable plastics
While single use plastic products, like bags and water bottles, are convenient, they are also a huge source of our water pollution. Aside from the tremendous water and energy resources it takes to produce plastic bags and bottles, they also cause damage to our infrastructure by clogging storm drains. Once these plastics reach our waterways, they are consumed by animals and have created plastic wastelands in our Great Lakes. Learn more from artist Dianna Cohen. You can help by bringing a reusable bag with you to the store, returning your plastic bags back to stores for recycling, using refillable water bottles, and joining Erie County’s efforts to reduce single use bag pollution.
3. Don’t pour it out
Chemicals and other products can pollute our waterways and sewer infrastructure when poured down sinks. Fats, oils, and greases can form giant blobs (or fatbergs) that clog household pipes and sewer systems, so avoid pouring them down the drain. Bring household hazardous waste like oils, cleaners, paint, chemicals, etc. to a recycling center or household hazardous waste event in your area. Events and more information on hazardous household waste disposal are available online on Erie County’s website.
4. Don’t flush it down
Only flush waste and toilet paper. The sewer system is not designed to remove pharmaceuticals from water, so medicines often contaminate waterways, with adverse effects on wildlife, and potentially humans. Dispose of medicines properly—many prescriptions provide disposal instructions on their packaging, or bring unused, or expired prescriptions to a medication disposal site. Also avoid flushing non-biodegradable products, like baby wipes, down the toilet as these also can wind up in waterways. Visit here for more on knowing what not to flush.
5. Go easy with chemicals & fertilizers
Use lawn chemicals and fertilizers sparingly or not at all, don’t use right before a storm as they can run off into our sewer system. Once in our waterways, these chemicals can harm plants, animals, and humans who come in contact with them. They also add excess nutrients to our waterways, producing algal blooms that can contain dangerous toxins, reduce oxygen levels in waterways, and block necessary sunlight from reaching fish and underwater plants. Hand pull weeds, choose organic fertilizer options, use only the amount directed, and consider aerating your lawn or using natural alternatives like mulch and grass clippings.
6. Be salt smart
Salts and many deicers contain chloride, which is toxic to things that live in our waterways. Just 1 teaspoon of salt can contaminate 5 gallons of water forever – now imagine all the salt from a Buffalo winter! For your sidewalk and driveway – shovel early and often so snow and ice don’t build up, use as little salt as possible, and when it’s too cold use sand on top of ice to add traction. More tips from our friends in Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
7. Pick up after your pet
We love our furry friends, but their waste is full of bacteria like E. Coli, parasites, and viruses that get washed out into our waterways when it rains and could make us sick. Pick up after your pets wherever they go and don’t let pet waste sit on your lawn for extended periods of time. Carry extra bags with you when you’re out and about, use biodegradable pet waste bags, or compost your pet waste.
8. Take care of your car with water in mind
It is ideal to bring your car to a commercial car wash where they are required to prevent their dirty water from entering the stormwater system. If you do wash at home, use phosphate-free, biodegradable detergents and cleaners and water-based products, when possible, as they are typically less toxic. Wash your car on grass or over gravel so the dirty, soapy water doesn’t enter the storm drain. It’s also important to keep your vehicle in good working order so oil and fluids don’t leak out onto the road and eventually into our stormwater system. When you work on your vehicle, take care to not let fluids leak onto the ground and always dispose of fuel and oil properly—never pour them down storm drains. Soak up spills with cat litter or other absorbent material. Learn more.
9. Use natural cleaners
We all need help keeping our houses clean and many cleaning products we use contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues. These chemicals are also harmful to our waterways when poured into our sinks, toilets, and storm drains. Natural household cleaners are healthier for us and our waterways. Learn more about natural cleaners, see how your favorite products rate, or try making your own.
10. Plant a tree or other native plants
Trees are not only beautiful but they also are natural managers of stormwater. They provide surfaces where raindrops can fall and evaporate. Their roots absorb water and help promote water infiltration in surrounding soil. They slow and capture runoff while transforming pollutants into less harmful substances. Re-Tree Western New York provides local resources for planting and caring for trees, and offers trees to Block Clubs and Neighborhood Organizations for planting. For all of your plantings, try to use native species of plants and grasses, which tend to have a deeper root structure, helping them to soak up more rainwater and require fewer chemicals and fertilizers to grow and flourish. For suggestions on plants native to Western NY, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper created a Native Plant Guide outlining plants native to this region.
11. Mowing—shorter isn’t better
Cutting your grass at 3 inches will lead to a healthier lawn with a denser root system – helping it block weeds and better absorb water. Leave your clippings on the lawn to provide a round of natural fertilizer every time you mow. Sweep up any clippings onto the lawn to prevent them from going into the street and storm drains.
12. Keep stormwater out of the system
Disconnect your downspout, get a rain barrel, build a rain garden, use permeable pavers on your driveway, install a green roof to capture and absorb rainfall; use porous surfaces like gravel or pavers in place of asphalt or concrete; and redirect home downspouts onto grass or gravel rather than paved driveways or sidewalks. See more examples of projects like this in Buffalo or check out these resources to learn more.