Tips for Clean Streams

Walk the dog.  Wash the car.  Change the oil.  Add some anti-freeze.  Kill some weeds.  Fertilize the lawn.  Certainly nothing odd about these activities, but without us noticing, our most common household chores could have an unhealthy impact on our creeks, streams and lakes.  Each time it rains everything we leave on our streets, driveways, and lawns washes untreated through our ditches and storm drains into our creeks, streams and lakes.  These pollutants threaten the health of fish and other life along the water. These pollutants also affect how we use our creeks, streams and lakes.  No one wants to fish or play in dirty water.  
What can we do to keep our streams and Lake Erie healthy and safe for our use? Keep pollutants out of rain water. Following some of these simple guidelines can have a big effect on our creeks, streams and lakes, and keep them clean and healthy so we can enjoy them for fishing, swimming and boating.

Household Hazardous Waste

One quart of motor oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of water.  Make sure household products such as motor oil, paint, varnishes, fertilizers, pesticides and pharmaceuticals are disposed of in a way that keeps them out of the storm drains and creeks. Get in touch with your local community or solid waste management district for proper recycle/disposal information.


In the Yard

Keep leaves, grass clippings, fertilizers, soaps, litter and harmful chemicals away from streets, ditches, storm drains and waterways.  These waste products feed our waterways with added nutrients and toxins that contribute to harmful algae growth and kill fish.
Disconnect your downspouts.  Be sure that roof gutters and downspouts empty onto the grass, rain garden or landscaped area where rainwater can soak into the ground or into a covered rain barrel to be used later for watering plants rather than allowing it to rush over asphalt and concrete.  Downspouts on many homes are connected directly the storm sewer system. Disconnecting downspouts reduces the amount of water entering the system and reduces the amount of pollutants that get to the creeks, streams and lakes.

Bag pet waste and place it in the trash.  Pet waste contains harmful bacterial pollutants which endanger our creeks and lakes and our ability to use them. When water (i.e. rain, hose water, sprinklers, etc.) comes in contact with pet waste the resulting water runoff contains high concentrations of bacteria, parasites, and viruses.  When this runoff makes its way to ditches and storm drains these pollutants get washed into our creeks and Lake Erie. Check out Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s “Pick Up Poop” program. 

Winter Practices

In the winter, the frozen soil conditions do not allow water to soak into the ground to filter out pollutants. Here are a few ways to prevent pollution throughout the winter months.
Use an alternative to standard ice melting salt.  Potassium Acetate (KA) is an alternative to salt for melting ice and is just as effective yet less harmful to plants and trees.   While KA is not a feasible alternative for de-icing extensive amounts of roadway due to its cost, it is a feasible alternative to de-ice front walkways or driveways.  This is readily available at the local hardware store.
No Garage Rinsing:  While it is tempting to take out the hose and spray the gray sludge and salt off of the car and out of the garage on a relatively warm winter day, this is not a good idea. Instead, take the car to a car wash and sweep the garage and properly dispose of the waste.

From Driveways to Waterways

Consider taking the car to a commercial car wash, or wash the car on the grass to filter pollutants. Washing the car on the street or driveway on a sunny day may be as American as baseball, but car washing detergents are toxic to fish and other aquatic animals and may contain nutrients that cause algae blooms.  The runoff also carries heavy metals, sediments, oil and grease that are washed off the vehicle.  Using a nozzle on the hose limits water use and runoff.
Do not hose off engine degreaser, tire cleaner, brake fluid, antifreeze or oil that was spilled on the driveway.  Instead, sprinkle cornmeal, sawdust, cat litter over the spill let it soak a few hours, then sweep it up and properly dispose of it.
Fix that leak!  Most of us wouldn’t think of pouring a quart of oil in the river or lake.  Yet we allow our cars to leak oil, gas, and antifreeze onto our streets, roads, and parking lots and eventually into our waterways.

Using Less Water

Rain isn’t the only vehicle for water pollution.  We water our lawns to satisfy our plants, wash our cars, and even spray down our sidewalks and driveways to make them look nice. The less water we use the less polluted runoff we will be sending to our waterways. Homeowners can reduce water use by:
Putting a spray nozzle on the hose can save hundreds of gallons of water with each use.
Using less water inside the house can also improve water quality.  The more tap water use, the more treated water that is being adding to our creeks, streams and lakes.  Check out “100 Ways to Conserve” water ( 
Using a broom and dust pan to clean the driveway or sidewalk.  Washing a driveway or sidewalk with a hose uses about 50 gallons of water every 5 minutes.
Check out Landscaping Solutions for more information on how to reduce water pollution. 

Septic Systems

Almost one quarter of all American homes depend on septic systems.  Septic systems are wastewater treatment systems that collect, treat, and disperse the water that goes down the drains inside a home or business from the sink, bathtub/shower, toilet, washing machine, etc. The wastewater is treated onsite, rather than collected and transported to a centralized community wastewater treatment plant. If not installed or maintained properly, septic systems can pollute groundwater, creeks, and lakes. By following the basic recommendations below, you can help ensure that your system continues to function properly and keep our water resources clean. 

Cleaning the Tank: County Health Districts recommend pumping out septic tanks every three years for a three bedroom home with a 1,000 gallon tank.  Smaller tanks should be pumped more often. Many communities and local health departments have mandatory pumping and point of sale inspection requirements.  Check with your community for pump-out requirements.

No Chemicals: Do not use chemicals for cleaning out the tank.  They can do more harm than good because chemicals can kill beneficial bacteria that break down raw sewage.

Minimize Flow to the System: Fix dripping faucets and install low-flow, water saving toilets and shower heads to avoid overloading the system. These fixtures, particularly shower heads, are readily available and easy to install.  

No Additives: Commercial septic tank additives have been shown to be ineffective and are not recommended.

Distance from Streams, Lakes and Wetlands: Install new septic systems as far away from streams, lakes and wetlands as possible.

No Trash: Do not add grease, diapers, paper, plastics, feminine products and cigarette butts to the system.  These materials do not decompose and can clog the system, increasing maintenance needs while threatening area creeks and groundwater.

Have questions about your septic system? Contact your local Health Department:

Cuyahoga County Board of Health
Geauga County Health District
Lake County General Health District
Portage County Health Department

Get the Facts about the Ohio Department of Health's Home Septic Rules Update

Cleaning Supplies

These time-honored cleaning recipes rely on the likes of baking soda, borax, vinegar, club soda and lemon juice that are far less harmful to people and the environment than most hazardous household cleaners found in the grocery store today. They can also save you money!!
Here are a few of the best recipes:
Window Cleaner:  ¼ cup vinegar, ½ teaspoon dish soap and 2 – 4 cups of water. A good quality squeegee makes the windows streak free.  Others swear by 2 tablespoons of Borax for every three cups of water. Still others rely on mixing a tablespoon of lemon juice in 1 quart of water.  Wipe dry with a crumpled newspaper.
All purpose cleaner:  Mixed together, vinegar and salt make a good surface cleaner. Dissolving four tablespoons of baking soda in a quart of warm water also makes for a good general cleanser, as well as straight baking soda on a damp sponge.
Drain Cleaner:  Pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain and follow with ½ cup of vinegar. Cover the opening if possible. Let it sit for a few minutes, then pour a kettle full of boiling water down the drain.  This method is not to be used if a commercial drain opener has already been tried. 
Disinfectant:  Mix ½ cup Borax in a gallon of hot water or dilute vinegar with water and use in a spray bottle and clean.
Decal and adhesive remover:  In one word, vinegar.  Saturate a sponge with hot vinegar and squeeze over no slip decals on the bathtub floor.  Squeeze behind adhesive-backed hooks to pry them loose.  Vinegar also removes decals, stickers and price tags from china, glass and wood.  Just paint with coats of white vinegar, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rub off the sticker or decal.
Auto or boat parts degreaser:  Use commercially sold soy-based or citrus-based cleaners.  They are less toxic and they biodegrade.
Copper and silver polish: Use equal amounts of vinegar and salt to clean copper pots and pans.  Boil the silver with a teaspoon of salt in a pot with about 3 inches of water and a sheet of aluminum foil for several minutes.  Then wipe off tarnish with a clean cloth.

Clean Boating

The small amount of raw sewage, litter and used oil or cleaning products dumped off the boat might not seem like much, but the impact swells when multiplied by the thousands of recreational and commercial boaters who do the same.  Clean boating means clean healthy waters. Follow these simple steps to make a difference:
Fuel-up carefully.  Recycle used oil.  Keep motors well tuned to prevent fuel and lubrication leaks.
Empty sewage into shoreline wastewater facilities and never throw litter overboard.  Not only does litter look bad, it injures and even kills aquatic life.
Observe “no wake” zones.  Boat wakes contribute to shoreline erosion and stir up bottom sediments that block sunlight from reaching underwater vegetation.
Flush winterizing agents and antifreeze from the engine into a proper receptacle prior to launch each season.
Use environmentally friendly products on the boat such as non-phosphate detergents, biodegradable products, and a scrub brush.
Secure trash in a garbage receptacle on board and dispose of it properly on shore.  If disposing at a marina, follow their recycling rules.
Check out Ohio’s Clean Boater Program for details on how you can become a Clean Boater.