Lots of Ways to Fight Water Pollution
Today we turn our blog over to a very special guest contributor, Katie Callahan, President of Friends of the Reedy River. FRR is a volunteer-based, conservation organization dedicated to promoting, preserving, and restoring the Reedy River that runs right here in Greenville, South Carolina. We asked her to list the biggest obstacles to cleaning up a river or other waterways -- and a few ways to keep them clean:
Learning from Nature
Growth is our biggest obstacle. We cannot fix ongoing water pollution issues with yesterday’s approaches. Nature teaches us a lot, and by mimicking nature, we can take advantage of natural principles to fix some of today’s challenges.
For instance, look at stormwater. To dismiss flooding, engineers spent decades routing waterways into pipes, collecting rainwater in more pipes, and running these into our rivers or a pond. Now, we’re realizing that the flumes of water we engineered create hungry high flows during storm events, tearing away at our stream banks, and not allowing the river access to its floodplain. We’ve taken nature out of the picture.
Plan to Preserve
Growth, though, demands that we think even smarter about where we build and how we build. And climate change is demanding that we plan for floods, extended periods of drought, and more. Our greatest Best Management Practice that we can apply is Better and More Planning. In doing this, we can protect and preserve the most essential areas that recharge our groundwater table and supply our community with drinking clean water, incorporate green spaces for treating runoff and providing flood water retention, and allow the river greater access to a natural floodplain.
Next, we need to apply all we know to the management of existing built spaces – focus growth on areas that already are developed and impervious, de-pave where we can, capture rainwater for reuse, and apply green infrastructure to all built areas. Green building focuses on treating runoff on a smaller scale through naturally engineered spaces. Rather than using a pipe, allow water to go through a bioswale, which is a planted ditch basically that allows water to slow down as it meets vegetation, infiltrate through its base sandy layer, while the vegetation uses nutrients in the runoff to grow.
Our other approaches to keep waterways healthy require much more personal responsibility from individuals and businesses. There are so many emerging contaminants that are now being discovered in our waterways, like microplastics and pharmaceuticals. Being a smart consumer and properly handling wastes are critical for the water quality and health of the next generation and beyond.
There are many steps we can take to better protect waterway health. Here are a few examples:
- Homeowners should be interested in minimizing water pollution from their yard and can express this to landscape companies, dismissing the need for herbicides, choosing more native plants in their landscaping over more turf, applying fertilizer only after reading their soil test results.
- Restaurants should be mindful of their kitchen grease and its disposal. Grease is clogging sewer systems across the globe. This is costing consumers millions of dollars in sewer line repairs, not the restaurants, since it’s cumulative in the system. Maintaining grease traps, wiping pans down before washing, making sure the grease bin is closed at the end of the night, and calling in advance if it needs to be emptied are all common sense solutions to this significant issue.
- The construction industry is not broadly required to use green infrastructure, but they can make more money if they do. Units that overlook green roofs sell for 25-50% higher than units overlooking asphalt roofs, for instance. Neighborhoods that keep large established trees also have a higher value. And neighborhoods with street trees have an increase home value of $15,000-$25,000!
Katie Callahan is director of Clemson University Center for Watershed Excellence. Katie has held multiple positions and roles at Clemson University since 2008, all related to water resources outreach and education, program development and implementation, and team building. She holds an B.S. in Marine Science – Chemical and Physical Oceanography and an M.S. in Environmental Science. She has more than 10 years of experience in surface water monitoring, monitoring plan development, and watershed assessment.
Keeping our coast clear