The 1972 Clean Water Act has been largely successful in cleaning up pollution from industrial activities and sewage treatment plants that dump wastewater directly into our streams and rivers through discharge pipes or “point sources”. Now we are faced with an even larger more diffuse and difficult to manage pollution problem: “non-point pollution”.
As water moves either across the land surface or into the groundwater and makes its way to a stream or river, it flows through what we call a watershed. A watershed is the land area that acts like a funnel and delivers rainwater and snowmelt to a particular location along a stream, river or lake system. When water moves through the watershed it can pick up various diffuse sources of pollution or “non-point pollution” along the way. Septic systems, leaky sanitary sewer lines, pet and livestock waste, fertilizers, pesticides, road salt and leaks from automobiles are all examples of non-point pollution that can be found in many areas across the state.
By making simple changes, promoting smart growth and proper land use planning, you can reduce the amount of non-point pollution in our environment. If each and every one of us did one small thing, together we can have a big impact. You can use less use less fertilizer and pesticides (remember more is not better), apply less salt in a more efficient way on your driveway and ask road agents to do the same, maintain your septic system if you have one and fix leaks from your automobile. You could also install a rain garden to naturally filter runoff from your roof and driveway, minimize the pavement on your property and if you own waterfront properly make sure there is natural vegetation along the riverbank or shore-front. If we all do our part to reduce non-point sources of pollution, together we can ensure that future generations will have enough clean water to drink and to use for boating, fishing and other recreational activities that are vital to the NH economy.
We all need clean water and we all live in a watershed that drains to a local river or water body. If we work together, we can reduce the pollution in our environment and keep our water clean. We have cleaned up pollution in the past. The Ohio River no longer catches on fire and the Merrimack River no longer changes color on a daily basis from factory dyes. History reminds us that we can tackle complex problems and if we come together, we can solve today’s largest water quality problem: non-point pollution.
Posted by Michelle Daley, Research Scientist, University of New Hampshire, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment