If you want to catch fish for dinner, choose your body of water carefully. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that, of lakes and streams studied, 44 percent of streams and 64 percent of lakes are polluted. Only 28 percent of streams were healthy ecosystems. Water pollution originates from industries, farms, businesses, urban areas and private homes. It's a big problem, but even individuals can take steps to reduce water contamination.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
Runoff from rain and melted snow flows into storm water drains and pipes, carrying pollutants such as oil, animal waste and fertilizers. These contaminants end up in lakes, rivers and streams. Reduce runoff at your home by increasing the vegetation and porous ground cover -- gravel, mulch or dirt -- so more water soaks into the ground.
Clean Up Your Clean-Up
Use cleaning products that don’t contain pollutants. Baking soda and water make a good scrub; add kosher salt to increase scouring power. Mix water with white vinegar to clean and polish surfaces, such as mirrors, hardwood floors and kitchen and bath tiles.
If you use commercial cleaning products that will go down the drain or into the soil or sewer, choose cleansers that are non-toxic, biodegradable and free of dyes, phosphates, acids, solvents and petroleum products.
When caring for your garden or lawn, avoid chemical fertilizers. Phosphates and nitrates enter the water supply, stimulating the growth of algae, which disrupts the ecosystem. Compost, peat, rotted manure and bone meal are all natural fertilizers, but even these should be use sparingly. Add fertilizer only when soil has deficiencies.
Car Care Caution
During car maintenance, never dump motor oil in the sewer or gutter or onto the ground. Find a recycling center that accepts used oil. Use professional car washes to clean your car. They're connected to sewer systems, so all dirty and soapy water is treated.
Keep an eye on your septic system. Fix toilets and faucets if they start leaking. Have a professional inspect the septic tank at least every five years. Pump out the contents when sludge fills one-third of the tank. Don’t put chemicals, grease, pesticides or household waste, such as paper towels and newspapers, into the system.
Researchers have found medicines, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antibiotics and mood stabilizers, in community water supplies and watershed areas. Small amounts of medications that aren't absorbed by the body pass through the digestive system and are flushed. Though you can't prevent that, don't flush unused medications down the toilet of drain.
Don't Rush to Flush
Never flush any products that aren’t manufactured to break down in the sewer or septic system. They end up polluting water or shorelines or interfering with the equipment in water treatment plants.
Too Hot to Handle
Your sewer or septic system isn't the place to dispose of leftover hazardous wastes such as paints, insecticides or pool chemicals. Many communities have procedures for collecting dangerous chemicals, so check with your local sanitation authority.
Turn It Off
The less water there is in a sewer system, the less likely it is to overflow, allowing contaminants to run into water sources. Be careful how much water you use in sinks, tubs, showers, dishwashers and washing machines. Fix leaks and buy energy efficient faucets, toilets and appliances.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Water Quality Facts
- Pierce County Washington: Let the Rain Soak In
- Natural Resources Defense Councl: How to Clean Up Our Water
- New York Times: A Safe House?
- Oregon State University: Eutrophication
- Pharmaceuticals Found in Drinking Water, Affecting Wildlife and Maybe Humans
- National Resources Defense Council: Cleaning Up the Anacostia River
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images