River stewardship at home | Environment
People ask me all the time what the worst kind of pollution is in the Spokane River or where the most pollution comes from. Every time I get the question, I put a serious look on my face and point a finger back to the question asker.
It's true. "We have met the enemy and he is us."
In contrast to the obvious “point-source” pollutants of last century – the classic industrial pipe spewing brown filth into pristine waterways such as the [Spokane River] - the greatest source of water pollution today is the more diffuse “non point-source” pollution known as stormwater runoff.
This term describes pollutants of many kinds, from many sources – motor oil, paint, sewage, fertilizers, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and other contaminants – that are washed off the land by rain, snow or mist and into water supplies. Being that stormwater or polluted urban runoff as it's known is the number one source of pollution in the Spokane River, it's the things we put on our yards, down our drains and in to our environment other ways that ultimately turn out to harm our River the most.
When it rains, it pours. When it rains on the urban landscape, it pours a toxic mixture of Valvoline, Weed-be-Gone, Miracle-Gro, tire dust, Lucky Strikes, dog poop and other crud into stormdrains then into our Spokane River and its tributaries. This nasty cocktail, this you could say silent killer, is the epitome of that saying, “death by a thousand cuts.” And that’s no exaggeration. Each year in the US, fuel from non point source spills equal the 11 million gallon EXXON Valdez spill in 1989. For a better idea of just how bad it is and what's out there, check out this great post from the Kootenai Environmental Alliance titled "Polluted Stormwater: A Nasty Problem for Coeur d'Alene Lake".
Usually the question that follows the question about the biggest source of polluting is the obvious follow up, which is, "well what can I do about that?".
Fortunately there are many easy steps that we can all take in our daily lives to prevent pollution from getting in to the Spokane River, or just as imperative our Spokane Aquifer.
Here are some suggestions.
In your home:
Baking soda. Mix baking soda with two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon to remove sticky greasy stains on kitchen counters, toilets and floor tiles, or to clean window screens, carpets with stains, ink stains on clothes and fish tanks. As baking soda has the ability to soften water, break down proteins and is slightly alkaline in nature, it can also be used as a deodorizer and be used to neutralize scents that are acidic in nature.
White vinegar readily remove stains from glass surfaces, dirty windows, and mirrors. A few drops of diluted vinegar can be sprinkled on glass or mirrors and wiped away using old newspaper. In its more concentrated form, white vinegar can also be mixed with lemon juice to unclog drains.
Lemon, because of it's acidic properties is able to break down greasy stains deposited on various metal products, making it another popular and well known eco friendly home cleaning agent. A fresh lemon cut into two, sprinkled onto salt or baking powder, can be used as an environment-friendly green cleaning agent for copper, brass, and other metal items to give them a brand-new sparkling shine.
Salt works well as a natural stain remover, such as perspiration, coffee stains on clothes. Salt is also an effective fabric softener.
Olive oil mixed with lemon juice works wonders as a natural wood furniture polishing agent. The ratio of mixing olive oil and lemon juice is 2:1.
In your yard and garden: *tips courtesy of the great Spokane Aquifer Joint Board
- Use organic fertilizers that release nutrients slowly.
- Skip fertilizing altogether, or apply smaller amounts throughout the year instead of one large application once a year.
- Plant less lawn area and introduce more planting beds for trees, shrubs, groundcovers and/or perennials.
- Increase the organic matter in your soil. This will help to hold water longer, reducing the need to water so frequently, which can lead to over watering and leaching. A rule of-thumb for watering is: ½ inch or less per hour to avoid runoff.
- Do not use chemicals near open water such as streams, rivers or lakes.
- Reduce runoff to storm drains by not watering impermeable surfaces such as concrete, asphalt or compacted ground.
- Keep your plants healthy so that chemicals are not as necessary by planting disease and pest resistant varieties.
- Use mulch or fabric covers to prevent weeds.
- Match plants with growing conditions by choosing plants adapted to this climate (i.e. 18"+ precipitation per year) and shade tolerant plants for shady areas.
- Use chemical methods as a last resort, and then choose the least toxic compounds such as horticultural oils, soaps and botanical insecticides.
- Install drip irrigation to save water and save $$$