The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 59 million pounds of active pesticide ingredients are used on homes and gardens each year. This includes 28 million pounds of herbicides, 14 million pounds of insecticides, and 17 million pounds of other types of pesticides.
Our coastlines are currently home to 40% of the U.S. population. We live, work, and recreate along the coasts. Clean water is critical for life itself. We depend on clean, clear water for drinking, bathing, swimming, fishing, and enjoying the beauty of the shoreline. Tourism and recreation, such as fishing, boating, hunting, and birding, are important economic drivers. Billions of dollars and millions of jobs depend on clean water and healthy coastlines.
The seafood industry is an important part of our economy, valued at over $5 billion in 2014. Fish and shellfish need clean water to hatch, feed, and spawn. Birds, marine mammals, and other wildlife also depend on clean water.
The average American household uses 320 gallons of water per day. About 30% of that amount is used for watering lawns and gardens. Half of landscape water is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or runoff.
Source: NOAA Fisheries – fisheries.noaa.gov
There is a long trend of higher population growth on the coasts. Coastal counties have grown an average of 5.6% since 2010, while inland counties grew just 4% (US Census Bureau).
Population growth leads to development: more houses, roads, shopping areas, and commercial and industrial facilities. All of these hard (impervious) surfaces increase surface water runoff. When it rains, runoff polluted with sediment, nutrients, pesticides, bacteria, heavy metals, and petroleum by-products flows into our waters.
In many U.S. coastal regions, surface water runoff is now the major source of water pollution. Pollution from sources such as industry and sewage treatment plants has decreased since passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act. However, surface water runoff comes from many diffuse sources, making it difficult to control.
Nutrient pollution, from excess nitrogen and phosphorus, is one of the most widespread and costly water quality problems. About 2/3 of our coastal areas and more than 1/3 of our estuaries are impaired by nutrient pollution.
Reducing pollution and restoring clean water is important for the health of people, fish, and wildlife. Restoration of natural features, such as healthy wetlands and shorelines, helps to reduce runoff and filter polluted water.
You could green your property to create a positive environmental impact. Easy ways you and your neighbors could make your community greener include: reduce polluted runoff by installing a rain garden, plant trees and native plants, or take other steps to improve quality of life for you and for local wildlife.
Restoring degraded salt marshes and wetlands improve water quality. Salt marshes are coastal wetlands that are flooded and drained by salt water brought in by the tides. These important habitats clean water by filtering sediments, nutrients, heavy metals, and other toxins from upland runoff. One study showed that in-stream wetlands reduced nitrate from 7 parts per million(ppm) to less than 1 ppm.
Try natural yard care practices to maintain your lawn and garden. By working with nature in your yard, you can have a great looking landscape that is easier to care for and healthier for people, pets, wildlife, and your local environment.
Trees, more than any other plant, limit soil erosion. Their extensive root systems hold soil in place so it is not washed away by rain or flowing water. Tree roots help stabilize stream banks, protecting habitat for fish and wildlife. Trees and other plantings along stream banks are critical for endangered fish and wildlife.
Trees also sequester and store carbon dioxide, which helps reduce climate change. They bring multiple benefits to communities, such as greater beauty, more vibrant shopping districts, and reduced crime. Trees can reduce residential heating costs in winter and air conditioning costs in summer.
Some cities and counties have programs in place to give away or plant trees in order to increase the urban forest canopy. Ask your local government what programs are available in your community.
We can all take actions to help reduce runoff and to improve and protect water quality.