Most water pollution begins on the land, not in the water. Eighty percent of marine environment pollution started as runoff. Today's lawn fertilizer is tomorrow's disruption of a marine ecosystem. Today's motor oil poured down a storm drain is tomorrow's fish poison. Today's industrial runoff is tomorrow's drinking water contaminant. The average citizen can help stop water pollution.
Dispose of Hazardous Waste Appropriately
Wastes not disposed of properly can find their way into groundwater, drinking water sources, and wildlife habitat. Never dump liquid waste into sinks, toilets, or storm drains. Antifreeze, paint and varnish, lawn care products, herbicides and pesticides, and petroleum of all kinds should be disposed at appropriate hazardous waste disposal sites. Check out Earth 911 (see Resources) for ways to recycle or properly dispose of these wastes.
Protect Source Water
Source water is water that is tapped for drinking water. It can include groundwater, aquifers, lakes, and reservoirs. To help protect these sources, you should first learn where they are in your area. Go to the EPA's "Adopt Your Watershed" website to find out where your drinking water comes from. Investigate whether "drinking water" signs are posted around your reservoir. Learn whether industrial or agricultural chemicals are being allowed to leach into your groundwater. Become a volunteer monitor to watch for water pollution, lobby elected officials, and educate the public.
Stop runoff by making changes to your property. Runoff carries with it all the waste it picks up on its way to rivers, lakes or the ocean. Lawn and garden chemicals, automobile residues, pet waste, anything that's on your lawn and driveway can become water pollution. To stop runoff, direct downspouts onto lawns, trees, or gardens. Plant native grasses to absorb runoff. Minimize paved and bare-ground areas. Channel roof water into rain barrels for later use on gardens and lawns. Avoid letting rain, wash water, or irrigation water run off your property into the street and storm sewers.
Investigate Local Sources of Pollution
If you don't know who the biggest water polluters are in your neighborhood, find out. The Scorecard Pollution Information site will tell you what kind of pollution is being released into your local water and who is doing the bulk of the polluting. Polluters like doing their dirty work in secret. Exposing polluters can motivate your neighbors to take action and your elected officials to impose regulation.
Reduce Wastewater Volume
Overburdened sewage treatment plants are another possible source of water pollution. Reducing the amount of water you use reduces the amount of wastewater going into your sewage treatment system. Install low-flow faucets in your house. Repair leaks in sinks and toilets. Make your lawn and garden as water-efficient as possible. Buy water-saving washing machines and dishwashers. Learn the most efficient way to wash your car, then do it on your lawn, not your driveway, so the grass can soak up the runoff.