Everyone is anxious to get into the swing of spring. Farmers are itching to get in the fields to plant corn and soybeans, while homeowners are busy picking up fallen branches and buying mulch for their flower beds. With longer daylight hours, we have more time to accomplish outdoor chores. Whether you live on a city street with storm drains or live in the country with road ditches, there are some simple things you can do to keep our waters clean while performing those fair-weather jobs. Here are some ideas to help you be “green” during the yard work season.
When it comes to lawn care, mowing high, around three to four inches, produces taller grass with deeper roots. Taller grass helps to shade out weeds and is more drought resistant. Save yourself time and gasoline by leaving grass clippings on the lawn. The clippings break down quickly and feed your lawn. Free fertilizer!
When mowing, please do not blow grass clippings into the street or road. This creates dangerous driving conditions and can cause accidents. If you live in an area with curbs and gutters, the clippings will wash into the storm drains, which connect directly to the nearest stream or river. There is a misconception that storm drains go to a sewer plant for treatment, but they do not! If you live in the country, grass clippings can fill up the road ditch, reducing the ditch’s capacity for holding rain water in a storm event. Clogged storm drains and road ditches can produce flooding of roads and yards.
Keep road ditches and yard swales free of yard waste so that water can flow freely. Dead plants, grass, branches, and leaves create food for algae which can grow out of control when there is a body of shallow fresh water, warm temperatures, sunlight, and excess nutrients in the water. Algal blooms can make water smell and taste bad, costing us more at the water treatment plant. In extreme cases, the blooms can be toxic, causing illness and sometimes even death in pets, livestock, wildlife and humans. Pools of standing water due to blocked storm drains or road ditches also become a hot spot for mosquito breeding, which definitely ruins the outdoor experience! Why not consider backyard composting as a way to manage yard waste or consult the Delaware/Knox/Marion/Morrow Solid Waste District for disposal locations at dkmm.org.
The storm drains and road ditches are not trash cans. Just a couple of weeks ago our staff removed a large stash of beer cans, and the cartons in which they are packed, inside a surface inlet blocking a storm drain in a local subdivision. They have also removed firewood, a flip flop, dog manure, plastic bags, and a whole lot more.
I have noticed people burning their road ditches and the top of the slope. Did you know there are laws that limit what, when, and where you can burn? For instance, fires must be more than 1,000 feet from your neighbor’s inhabited building and fire/smoke cannot obscure visibility on the roadway. Neither requirement was being followed a week ago in my neighborhood. Both the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) have authority over open burning, but there may also be local ordinances in your area. More information can be found at epa.ohio.gov/dapc/general/openburning and at forestry.ohiodnr.gov/burninglaws. We recommend you contact your local fire department to find out what local regulations cover your property. Burning may have other negative consequences for our water quality by leaving the soil uncovered. Bare soil is susceptible to erosion from the impact of raindrops. Eroded soil, also called sediment, is the most prevalent pollutant of our streams, rivers and lakes. Any activity that removes the vegetation from the banks of the road ditch can have detrimental effects on the quality of our water.
It is easy to be “green” this time of year by following these simple techniques. Remember, “only rain down the drain, “whether it is a storm drain or a road ditch. For other conservation ideas, check out the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District’s website at www.delawareswcd.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.