August was National Water Quality Month, and though this article is a bit after the fact, every month should be a celebration of clean water.
Nonpoint source water pollution makes up more than half of all water pollution globally. Nonpoint is defined as the type of pollution that comes from regular, everyday human activities on land, wherein stormwater runoff carries those pollutants with it into surface waters like creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes. These surface waters serve as key ecological habitats, popular recreational areas, and major sources of drinking water for most South Carolinians.
“How much can we really be polluting, and why is it such a big deal?” you may wonder, and the answer is pretty significant.
Visible pollution — things like litter or a sheen of motor oil splashed across a roadway — seem easy enough to tackle. Don’t litter. Pick up litter when you see it. Repair your leaking vehicle. Recycle fats, oils, and greases, rather than dumping them out into the environment or down the drain. Don’t clog storm drains with brush. Regulate erosion and sediment from construction sites. Visible solutions to visible problems are step s in the right direction, but they don’t capture the full scope of the problem.
Other forms of nonpoint source water pollution are less visible, and frequently are subject to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. These include pesticides, fertilizers, and bacteria. Among sources of these pollutants are contaminated stormwater runoff from golf courses, farms, and residential homes. Pesticides and fertilizers are often used improperly from overuse or inaccurate products being applied. Bacterial contamination (specifically e. Coli) typically comes from failing septic systems, livestock, wildlife, and domestic animals, and is a primary contaminant of concern in Spartanburg County’s surface water.
Pollutants like those described above are eyesores, wreak havoc on aquatic habitats and wildlife, negatively affect human health, and increase costs and labor associated with filtering and cleaning drinking water.
Because these sources of water pollution are unregulated, and because we all contribute inadvertently to nonpoint source water pollution, we must rely on education and outreach programs encouraging citizens to change behaviors to target and lessen this type of pollution.
Small behavioral changes can make a huge impact on water quality to the benefit of all. We encourage residents to cover trash loads, pick up litter, and report illegal dumping. We offer motor oil, motor oil filter, antifreeze, gasoline, and grease/cooking oil recycling at all Spartanburg County recycling centers to help residents properly dispose of these contaminants. Spartanburg County also holds an annual Household Hazardous Waste event to help residents properly dispose of chemicals and hard-to-manage items that impact water quality.
Wise use of commercial pesticides and fertilizers is as simple as choosing targeted products for the pests you are trying to control and following package directions. Citizens can obtain a soils test through Clemson Extension to assess fertilization needs for your particular soil type (often this is also based on what you plan to grow) to help prevent overfertilization.
Adding environmentally friendly soil amendments like compost, gardening for wildlife that will naturally help to control pests, or practicing integrated pest management are all actions gardeners and homeowners can take to reduce negative water-quality impacts.
If you own livestock or farmland, look into cost-share programs available through the USDA to help tackle contamination that may be associated with your land. At your home, simple steps to lessen e. Coli contamination include picking up after pets and disposing of pet waste in trash receptacles, and properly maintaining septic systems (more information can be found on SC-DHEC’s website).
Remember, the solution to pollution is not striving for perfection, but rather taking small impactful steps, and collectively doing our part to protect our watersheds.
Jes Sdao is Spartanburg County’s recycling coordinator.
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