Virginia's rivers and their tributaries are important, productive natural and recreational resources. Help them stay this way by reading about these simple ways to do your part for the commonwealth's water quality.
Start in your own home or backyard - Practice good stewardship at home. Water is a valuable commodity and conserving it can save your family money. Turn water off while brushing your teeth and repair leaks. A dripping faucet can waste 20 gallons of water a day, and a leaking toilet can waste 200! Wash cars and water lawns during off-peak hours and use a timer as a reminder for turning off water. Learn how to have environmentally friendly, healthy lawns and gardens by downloading A Virginian's Year-Round Guide to Yard Care: Tips and Techniques for Healthy Lawns and Gardens (PDF, 3.3MB).
Change the scenery - Cut down lawn maintenance, prevent soil erosion and get better results from fertilizers by using shrubs and trees and mulched areas instead of grassed lawn space. Lawn care practices, beginning with soil testing, can have a tremendous effect on water quality if each homeowner in the commonwealth plans carefully. Using native plant varieties suited to particular climates and conditions won't require extra fertilizer or watering. A good reference is the Department of Conservation and Recreation's Natural Heritage publication Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration and Landscaping (coastal plain, piedmont and mountain versions). Contact a local nursery or garden center to ask about alternatives to lawns. Another source is a local chapter of the Virginia Society of Landscape Architects or your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
Puzzling - Share Soil and Water Conservation Puzzles (PDF, 770k) with kids you know so that they learn how important it is to conserve our precious soil and water resources. It's a great resource for teachers!
Follow directions - Always read labels and follow instructions for fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to prevent excess chemicals from washing away with rainfall into storm drains. These drains lead directly to the nearest water supply. Ask for an expert's opinion about using the proper type and rate for fertilizer. Click here for a list of lawn care providers that have water quality agreements with DCR (PDF).
Be a pooper-scooper - Did you know that your pet's waste contributes to nonpoint source pollution? There are things you can do to take care of this nasty problem. Click here to learn more.
Maintain your septic system - It's an ugly job, but we have to do it! If your home has a septic system, rather than being connected to a municipal wastewater treatment plant, proper sewage disposal rests with you. Untreated wastewater can pollute groundwater and nearby streams when septic systems fail. If drains or toilets empty slowly, there may be a problem with your system. Learn to maintain it. Also have your septic system pumped and serviced every three to five years to ensure proper function. Contact your local health department for information or check out www.vdh.state.va.us/oehs/03.htm.
Car care and household chemicals - Keeping cars in good shape helps the environment. It's important to know that products used for your car and cleaning your house can be toxic and damage natural resources when not properly handled. Learn how to safely dispose of motor oil, antifreeze, batteries and household chemicals. Dumping chemicals down a storm drain is not practicing good stewardship. One gallon of used motor oil can pollute up to two million gallons of water. For more information, contact Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality at (804) 698-4000.
Speaking of cars - Buy a bay license plate - it's the one with the crab in the corner. Funds generated by sales of these plates are used to support Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts. You benefit, too . . . a portion of the cost of the plates is tax-deductible. Contact the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles nearest you.
Volunteer in your community with neighbors and other concerned citizens - Clean storm drains and gutters. It may not seem like a big deal, but debris can cause problems in streams and other bodies of water. You and your neighbors can regularly clean leaves, twigs and other trash from gutters and storm drains. Dispose of this debris properly so that it doesn't lead to stream pollution (some landfills don't accept natural debris).
Know your watershed address - (Hint: It's different from your street address!) Discovering this lets you know which tributary is impacted by your activities on land. Your land collects rainfall, which eventually finds its way into rivers and streams, then on to larger tributaries and eventually places like the Chesapeake Bay, or the Gulf of Mexico - for those rivers in the southwestern Virginia. That, in essence, is a watershed - land that drains into a particular body of water. You can help maintain a healthy watershed by being a good steward and considering your actions.
Adopt-A-Stream - This citizen clean-up campaign is ideal for scout troops, church groups, businesses or even neighbors and friends. Adopting and cleaning a stream once a year for two years allows you to see the benefits of your stewardship, and the state will reward you with a metal Adopt-A-Stream sign that tells everyone you have done your part for Virginia's waters. Call DCR's Adopt-A-Stream coordinator at (804) 786-9732.
Become a water quality monitor - Looking for a great project for a class, a service organization or a citizens' group? You've found it. Monitoring shows what's happening in a stream or lake and how problems vary by site and situation. Results keep people aware of how activities impact their local water quality and can help communities make decisions based on good data and information. Contact Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality at (804) 698-4026 or the Izaak Walton League's Save Our Streams program (Jay Gilliam, Virginia coordinator) toll-free at (888) 656-6664, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be a responsible park visitor - Enjoy Virginia's parks but remember to respect the outdoors. When hiking, carry a bag and pick up litter. Stay on marked trails - their locations are designed to minimize impacts to the environment such as damaged habitat and increased soil erosion. Use park-provided wood rather than fallen wood for campfires. Fallen wood is important habitat for birds, reptiles and other animals. Avoid burning paper or trash even where fires are allowed; they can release air pollutants and leave unwanted residue in the soil. Use camp stoves. For information about Virginia State Parks, call 800-933-PARK (in Richmond 225-3867), or visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/parks.
Value and conserve wetlands - Wetlands are tidal and non-tidal bogs, marshes or swamps. They provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat, help control erosion, and purify water by trapping and filtering pollutants. Be sure to contact a local wetlands board, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission or Department of Environmental Quality before beginning an activity that disturbs wetlands.
Control erosion in our waterways - Trees, shrubs and grasses along streambanks help slow runoff and their roots absorb pollutants, thereby buffering bodies of water. Shoreline buffers absorb wave energy to reduce erosion. Vegetation filters air and provides food and habitat for wildlife. For help, contact DCR's Shoreline Erosion Advisory Service at (804) 786-2064. Call the nearest Department of Forestry office to learn where to get seedlings, as well as technical and financial assistance for planting riparian buffers.
Restore riverfronts - How much do you know about the river or waterway nearest you? What is its environmental and historic importance to your community? Virginia's rivers are still primary resources for contributing to the quality of life. Join local groups to interpret your riverfront's past and examine its future. Join community leaders and developers in making sustainable development plans for your riverfront. For historic information, contact Virginia's Department of Historic Resources in Richmond at (804) 367-2323. For archaeological stewardship information, call offices in Portsmouth at (757) 396-6711; in Winchester at (540) 722-3442; in Roanoke at (540) 857-7585 or in Petersburg at (804) 367-2323 extension 131.
Promote science education - To help everyone better understand natural resources and their benefits, many organizations offer watershed education programs. A list of excellent environmental education programs can be found at the Virginia Naturally website. Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) is an excellent curriculum for students K-12. Training sessions are coordinated through the Department of Environmental Quality, (804) 698-4442. The Virginia Museum of Natural History, (540) 666-8600, produces a Virginia watersheds manual for educators. You can learn more about DCR's Virginia State Parks . . . Your Backyard Classrooms by calling (804) 786-8765. Also administeredby DCR, Project Underground aims to increase cave and karst awareness. Call (540) 831-4057 for details.
The state's 47 soil and water conservation districts (see local government listing in phone book) offer various watershed education opportunities for students and adults. Call their state association at (804) 559-0324. Promote environmental awareness and conservation stewardship among adults by choosing environmental speakers or projects like Adopt-A-Stream for club meetings, civic or religious groups and professional societies.
If some of these common sense approaches have been a way of life for you, then branch out and get involved in something new - be innovative and consider creating projects to improve the commonwealth's waterways. Or be clever and devise a unique solution for solving a particular water quality problem. Site- and situation-specific challenges often benefit from someone's fresh perspective!