April 22 is Earth Day.
As in past years, individuals, community groups and businesses will be out en masse picking up litter and other visible debris from parks, vacant lots and busy roadways all across Central New York. This annual tradition reminds us that even small actions can make a big difference in the world around us.
It's relatively easy to be environmentally conscience on Earth Day. Educational reminders and opportunities to participate in organized activities are everywhere. The sun has returned and spring is in the air. We're anxious to get outside and enjoy the pleasantries of the changing season. We happily scoop, rake and bag the last dank and dirty reminders of winter away. We even welcome April's showers as a prerequisite to May's flowers. But what about those showers? Could they be quietly killing our lakes and streams? Are we inadvertently contributing to the degradation of local water quality as we busily go about our spring clean ups and landscaping projects?
Rain showers, otherwise known as stormwater, starts off clean and flows freely or through engineered channels and storm sewers, directly into our rivers, lakes and streams without any treatment or purification. Along the way, stormwater becomes contaminated as it runs over sidewalks, roads, parking lots, construction sites, lawns and gardens. By the time it reaches the nearest water body, stormwater often contains oil, antifreeze, gasoline, liter, fertilizers and pesticides. Even natural materials like leaves, soil, grass clippings and pet waste become pollutants when they are transported into our waterways by stormwater runoff. These pollutants kill fish and aquatic plants, destroy habitat, impact drinking water supplies and close beaches.
It's estimated that more than one-half of all the pollution in our nation's waterways is the result of contaminated stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff cannot be treated using the same end-of-pipe controls appropriate for single point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants. The best way to improve stormwater quality is to treat the source - don't let runoff get polluted in the first place.