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Watershed Association: Heavy Rain Will Affect Water Quality

Three local non-profit organizations write about the impact of heavy rain and runoff of our local water bodies.

The United States is experiencing more intense rain and snow storms, and the Northeast specifically has seen the highest increase relative to the rest of the country ­- a 67 percent increase in the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest storms. As storms increase in intensity, flooding and water quality has become a larger concern. Increased development across our watersheds can also lead to higher high flows and flooding during storm events.

Hurricane Sandy is projected to move toward the northeast this weekend, potentially bringing heavy rains. When it rains, or when snow melts, pollution in storm drains or on our paved surfaces is carried to our rivers, beaches, and bays. According to Think Blue Massachusetts, there is a direct connection between rain and water pollution; when it rains it pours - pollution, that is.

In our region, our rivers and streams empty into the Plum Island Estuary, the largest wetland dominated estuary in New England (60 square kilometers), which drains a 600 square kilometer watershed within the Boston metropolitan area. The Estuary is part of the larger Great Marsh, the largest continuous salt marsh in New England, stretching from Cape Ann to New Hampshire.

Although a portion of the estuary is protected as part of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the watershed is becoming more developed, and it is vulnerable to numerous threats. What we do on land affects the water that we all love to swim and spend time in. For example, a parking lot sheds 16 times the amount of water that a meadow does. That excess water flows into local water bodies through storm drains carrying any pollutants found on the parking lot surface. Polluted stormwater is a major public health threat to our waters, closings beaches and shellfish beds and harming shellfish, birds and mammals.

The good news is that we can solve this problem. Here are some simple suggestions that you can do on your land to help keep our waters clean.

  • Having fewer hard surfaces of concrete and asphalt will reduce runoff from your property. Landscape with vegetation, gravel or other porous materials instead of cement; install wood decking instead of concrete and use interlocking bricks and paver stones for walkways.
  • Redirect rain gutters and downspouts away from buildings and to rain barrels and gardens. Planting vegetation at lower elevations than nearby hard surfaces allows runoff to seep into soil.
  • Decreasing the amount of water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides you use, specifically in landscaping practices, will improve the health of the Plum Island Estuary. Over-watering lawns not only wastes water, but can also increase the leaching of fertilizers into groundwater.
  • Composting your grass and lawn clippings and leaves will keep them from making their way to waterways and clouding water, reducing sunlight in the water and the quality of water habitats.
  • Manage the oil coming from road surfaces and motor repair which is toxic to aquatic organisms. When you buy motor oil, ask if the store or service station has a program to buy back waste oil and dispose of it properly.
  • Correctly dispose of hazardous household products. Keep paints, used oil, cleaning solvents, polishes, pool chemicals, insecticides, and other hazardous household chemicals out of drains, sinks, and toilets.

We can all make a difference and help to lessen the damaging effects of heavy rains on our local waterways!

This article was created by the Greenscapes North Shore Program, a coalition of three non-profit organizations working to encourage environmentally-friendly landscaping and yard care practices. The Greenscapes North Shore Coalition is made up of Salem Sound Coastwatch, Ipswich River Watershed Association, and Eight Towns and the Great Marsh Committee. For more information and to sign up for the Greenscapes email newsletter, visit www.Greenscapes.org

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