Improving water quality: small actions can have a large impact!

The largest source of water pollution in West Michigan is stormwater runoff.  As rainwater washes across roofs, parking lots, farms, and lawns it picks up pollutants from these surfaces and carries them to the nearest body of water.  When pesticides from our lawns or chemical leaks from our vehicles enter the watershed, they endanger the plants and animals living there, as well as decrease the quality of our own drinking water.

Storm drain,

The increase in impermeable surfaces—like roads, buildings, sidewalks etc—has lead to an increase in runoff volume as well as contaminants contained in the runoff.  A higher volume of water in storm sewer systems can also lead to back-ups and overflows.  In general, the greater the area of impermeable surfaces existing in an area, the lower the water quality will be.

Storm sewer systems are designed to carry rainwater directly to a body of water; the runoff does not get treated first, so you should never allow anything besides rain water to be drained into a storm sewer.  As much rainwater as possible should remain on the property and soak into the ground, where it is filtered naturally before entering the groundwater.  Remember that anything on the ground will eventually end up in our water, so consider carefully when choosing to pollute.  Some simple steps can be taken to prevent things like fertilizers, road salt, bacteria, and pesticides from reaching the watershed.   Anything you do to reduce the amount of pollution on your lawn and driveway will help contribute to increased water quality.

  • Pick up pet waste and dispose in a trash can—don’t leave it on the ground.
  • When using fertilizers, choose slow-or timed-release, phosphorus-free fertilizers and always apply according to instructions.
  • Don’t flush old medicine—go to for drop-off locations.
  • Use a rain barrel to collect runoff and prevent it from entering the watershed.  The rain water collected can be used to water gardens and lawns.
  • Wash your car on the lawn or gravel, not your driveway.

    Picture all the pollutants from your lawn and driveway being dumped directly into the river. Photo:

  • Always use non-toxic, biodegradable soaps when washing vehicles or outside surfaces.
  • Take household hazardous wastes, like used engine oil and leftover paint, to a recycling collection center.
  • Minimize use of salt for snow and ice control.  Use magnesium or calcium chloride alternatives if possible.
  • Keep vehicles well maintained and quickly clean up any liquid spills.
  • Choose gravel or paving stones instead of concrete, where possible.
  • Reduce the amount of lawn in your yard by adding flowers, herbs, and native plant gardens.
  • Never dump anything down a storm sewer or drain.
  • Always pick up litter from the ground, to prevent it from getting into waterways.
You can find more information about storm water management on the City of Grand Rapid’s Environmental Services website, the EPA’s Storm water website, and WMEAC’s website.
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