You Can Help Protect Delaware’s Waterways

There are always things that you can do in your everyday life, no matter where you live, to help protect the waterways that serve as our drinking water sources, habitat for wildlife, and places of recreation.

Maintain a Healthy Lawn and Garden

A healthy lawn and garden makes a home more attractive and is also environmentally beneficial. Healthy lawns and gardens, coupled with native trees and shrubs, can help prevent erosion and runoff. However, lawns can also be a source of pollution if proper lawn-care techniques are not followed.

Perform soil tests to determine the amount of nutrients necessary for your healthy lawn. You may be applying more fertilizer than is necessary. Contact your local cooperative extension for more information and test kits.

Apply fertilizers according to directions and only as needed in the fall. Do not apply fertilizers before rain is expected because it can be wasted by running off into stormwater ponds causing algae growth.

Don’t give your lawn a crew cut. Lawns should be at least four inches high. Cutting too short or too frequently weakens grass and fosters weed growth. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to serve as a natural fertilizer or compost them.

Use pesticides sparingly. If pesticides are used, read and follow directions carefully. Try to use natural (non-toxic) alternatives to pesticides, such as insecticidal soap.

Consult your local nursery for advice on selecting native plants suited for the site characteristics. Use mulch to reduce weed growth and evaporation.

Do not overwater your lawn or garden. Excessive watering can cause chemicals to leach into groundwater and can make plants more prone to disease. Make sure when watering, sprinklers are aimed at grass and flower beds and not driveways, sidewalks, and roads, which wastes the water and increases pollution.

Create a compost pile in your backyard to recycle your kitchen scraps and leaves into nutrient-rich topsoil.

For more information on proper lawn care, visit Delaware Livable Lawns.

Other Outdoor Practices

Pick up your pet’s waste when you’re in your backyard, at the local park, or on a walk in your community. When it rains, water runs along the ground picking up your pet’s waste and the bacteria found in it, and goes directly into our storm drains that flow untreated into our waterways.

When washing your car, take your car to a car wash because they collect and recycle the water to use again. If you want to wash your car at home, wash it on your grass so that the water can be absorbed by the ground and not run off into storm drains.

Disconnect your downspouts by positioning them to drain onto a grassed area where it can soak into the ground instead of running off into storm drains.

Keep Septic Systems Functioning Properly

Septic systems require periodic check-ups and proper care to function properly. They must have a healthy diet to minimize groundwater contamination as well as costly repair bills. Each septic system contributes nutrients to groundwater (about 18.25 lbs of nitrogen and 0.7 lbs of phosphorous per year).

Keep all toxic and hazardous chemicals out of your septic systems. Even small amounts can destroy your system.

Avoid dumping grease and fats down kitchen drains. They can cause blockages in the system.

Minimize the solids load. Minimize or avoid using a garbage disposal. Remove scraps with the garbage or compost them.

Have your septic tank pumped by a certified contractor every three years. Failure to pump can cause clogging and result in costly repairs.

Don’t drive over absorption fields. This can cause compacting, which can result in clogging. Do not plant trees over the system or construct walkways, patios, swimming pools, or other permanent structures over or within the leach line.

Reduce Household Hazardous Waste

We must also be mindful not to improperly dispose of hazardous, toxic, or unnecessary materials which can increase the burden on wastewater systems. Here are some tips for reducing these household impacts.

Use non-phosphate detergents. Phosphates that come from wastewater may overstimulate plant growth in the water and deplete oxygen levels needed by fish.

Purchase non-toxic cleaning products.

Read and follow the directions on labels carefully.

Use latex paint instead of oil-based paints when possible.

Use stains and finishes derived from natural sources such as shellac, tung oil, and linseed oil.

Safely dispose of household hazardous materials at the Delaware Solid Waste Authority’s scheduled drop off days. Never dump anything, especially hazardous materials, down a storm drain because they flow untreated, directly into our waterways.

Follow Friendly Boating Practices

Avoid discharging sewage directly into the water. Sewage contains disease-carrying organisms and nutrients that are harmful to humans, plants, and wildlife. Boaters should have some type of sanitation device on board to hold and treat the sewage. The waste should be disposed of at dump stations or pump-out facilities.

Clean fish at designated areas and dispose of waste in proper containers. Do not throw fish waste into surface waters at marinas; the waste can cause water-quality problems within the marinas.

Dispose of or store liquid waste (such as oil, grease, detergents or paint) in the proper containers.

Avoid over-fueling. One quart of engine oil spilled in one million quarts of seawater will kill half of the exposed crab larvae. Purchase vents that act as fuel/air separators so that fuel does not enter the bilge. Use oil-absorbing pads in the bilge and dispose of them properly.

While keeping boat hulls clean is important for efficient operation, use detergents and antifouling treatments that do not contain phosphate and are biodegradable to minimize environmental impacts.

Obey speed limits and no-wake zones. Boat wakes contribute to shoreline erosion. Be careful in shallow areas; do not disturb the sediment or uproot vegetation with the boat propeller.

For more specific ways you can help in your home watershed and stay informed about the problems in your watershed, visit the Delaware Watersheds website and our Protecting Our Waterways page.