Conservation at Home

Communications Coordinator Emily stands at a scenic overlook with mountains behind

By Emily Mansfield, PCCD Communications Coordinator

The District’s mission centers around “conserving natural resources,” but this is a very broad and often daunting goal. There are many, many “natural resources,” including soil, surface waters like ponds and streams, groundwater, plants, animals, microorganisms like bacteria, and more! In a changing and developing world, many of these natural resources are experiencing stress from a variety of interconnected factors like habitat loss, climate change, and invasive species, among others. More than ever, they depend on sustainable actions from organizations and individuals that positively impact the habitats they rely on to continue surviving and thriving. There are some beneficial sustainable actions that are widely acknowledged and promoted in the media, schools, and offices, such as “utilize reuseable shopping bags, turn the lights off when you’re not in a room, carpool, etc.” With a seemingly endless number of natural resources to conserve and stressors they’re facing, though, there is also an endless number of ways one can make a positive impact. You may be wondering, “What are some other things that we can all do that are not as often talked about or less obvious?” Whether you’ve already mastered the reusable shopping bag or are just starting out on your sustainable living journey, there are many ways individuals can contribute to improving the planet and the local community.

One of the main objectives of the Conservation District is preventing the state’s number one pollutant from entering our waterways- sediment! Although trash typically comes to mind first when thinking about pollution, soil can have a very large impact on our waterways by clogging the gills of aquatic wildlife and preventing aquatic vegetation growth, among other effects. Soil can be eroded, or worn away, by water, wind, or chemicals, which both reduce the health of the overall soil on the original site and allows for that loose soil to travel to other sites where it becomes a pollutant (like when it is deposited in streams, known as sedimentation).  One of the easiest ways landowners can prevent erosion is by planting vegetation, like native groundcovers that expand over large areas or trees and shrubs with deep roots to hold the soil in place. When you have any project on your property that disturbs the soil,  it’s important to make a plan for how to contain that soil on site and avoid any potential sediment pollution of nearby waterways. An Erosion and Sediment (E&S) Control Plan must be implemented and available on site of any earth disturbance projects (the District’s Erosion and Sedimentation Control Small Projects Guide can help landowners or project managers develop a plan). Technical staff at the District can assist with this, too.

Pollutants like sediment, lawn chemicals, trash, and more are typically transported into our waterways and other natural areas through stormwater runoff. When rainwater hits the surface and infiltrates the ground at permeable (porous) spots, like vegetated areas, that water filters through the soil and into our groundwater supply. However, when precipitation isn’t able to infiltrate into the ground,  such as in paved or cemented areas or when it falls on rooftops, the water runs off until it reaches either a waterbody or a place where it can infiltrate into the ground. As the water moves over the surface, it can pick up pollutants that it encounters (large or small, depending on the force of the running water) and carry them with it. These pollutants are called non-point source pollutants because they enter waterways from a wide area, and once they are transported by the stormwater, it is difficult to pinpoint where they originated from. By limiting stormwater runoff, we can also prevent this transporting of pollutants.

According to Penn State Extension, one roof with a surface area of 1,000 square feet accumulates 300 gallons of stormwater during a half-inch rainstorm. Over the course of several storms during the spring and summer, that is a lot of stormwater running off from each building in our community! Luckily, this also means that proactive measures taken by each household or office can have a large impact by redirecting all that water to a permeable surface. To increase infiltration and minimize runoff on your property, ensure that any downspouts on your house or other structures like garages and sheds lead to rain gardens or other permeable surfaces. Grass lawns are also much better suited to infiltration than driveways or sidewalks, although they are not as permeable as other vegetation types with deeper roots. Installing a rain barrel at the base of a downspout can minimize runoff by capturing the water for later use and slower release, too. Be sure to clean any leaf litter or other debris out of gutters and ditches to allow stormwater to flow freely to pervious surfaces where it can infiltrate.

There are many non-point source pollutants you can look out for and minimize on your property, as well. When you take your dog or other animals outside, clean up any waste they leave (i.e. poop) to prevent bacteria and extra nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus (these are some of the nutrients that lead to Harmful Algal Blooms!) from entering the ecosystem. Proper septic system maintenance also reduces the chances of bacteria and nutrients entering the nearby groundwater. It’s recommended the average home septic system be inspected and pumped out at least every three years. Be mindful never to dump anything on the ground that you wouldn’t want to drink, like paint and other household hazardous waste, as pollutants can seep into the groundwater that will eventually come out of our wells and faucets. When applying road salt, herbicides, or fertilizers, always follow the directions on the package and don’t apply more than recommended. Check the weather forecast before applying, as well, to give the substances plenty of time to absorb before stormwater runoff from a rain event washes over the landscape.

Thank you for your interest in conserving Pike County’s natural resources and keeping your community healthy! If you’re looking for even more ways to engage in conservation at home, visit the District’s Homeowner’s Checklist for a Watershed-Friendly Home interactive infographic and webpage here.