Where Does Water Pollution Come From?
Urban water pollution is carried to storm drains during rain events through stormwater runoff. Runoff from rain can occur with storms producing as little as one-tenth of an inch of rain. When this happens, anything on the ground, including litter, chemicals, sediment, lawn trimmings and pet waste can end up in storm drains, where it is then transported directly to our lakes and creeks without being sent to a treatment facility. This is why it is so important to think carefully about what we do as a community every day that can impact water quality.
No One Likes Litter and It Takes a Heavy Toll On Our Environment
Let’s face it. Litter is everywhere. You see it on roadsides, in parks, in your neighborhood and maybe even your own yard. It is unsightly. It is smelly. It can attract rodents and it has a terrible impact on our environment.
Plastics make up about 80% of the pollution in our oceans. Plastic carried in stormwater from McKinney contributes to the ocean plastic problem in Galveston, Padre Island and even as far away as the Caribbean!
Why does this matter? Plastic can break down in water, but it doesn’t disappear. Tiny bits of plastic can be mistaken for food by fish, birds and other animals. It fills up their stomachs and prevents them from eating nourishing food. As a result, they can become sick and die of starvation.
Do your part to help prevent and clean up litter by taking these simple steps:
- If you see litter, don’t just keep walking! Pick it up!
- Set an example to your friends, family, and neighbors by not littering.
- Make sure any trash placed outdoors is tied or secured in bags or cans.
- Make sure litter is placed in appropriate trash bags. Loose items can easily fall out or blow away during trash collection. Place bags in trash cans with lids.
- Carry a litter bag in your car.
- Want to do more to help? Participate in our annual trash clean-up event, or join our Adopt-a-Spot Program and pledge to clean up a spot that is near and dear to you four times a year.
Let's Face It, Poo Stinks!
Nobody likes to pick up poo. It’s smelly and gross, but it’s also your responsibility as a pet owner.
Pet waste is not only a nuisance, but it can be a serious health issue for both humans and pets. Parvovirus, which can cause serious illness and death to unvaccinated puppies, is transmitted through infected waste and can remain active in soil for up to six months. Diseases and parasites such as campylobacteriosis, cryptosporidium and toxocariasis can be transmitted to humans through infected pet waste.
Pet waste is also a major water pollutant in our area. Two of McKinney’s creeks, Wilson Creek and East Fork Trinity River, are listed on the Texas 303(d) list as impaired for bacteria. This means that bacteria levels in these two important waterways are more than the levels considered safe by the State of Texas and the EPA. Too much bacteria in the water can cause gastrointestinal illness and skin reactions which makes it unsafe for swimming or other forms of contact recreation.
Pet waste in creeks can also cause visible water quality issues. Poop adds nutrients to water, which can lead to eutrophication or excessive nutrients. This causes algae blooms, which are smelly and unsightly. When the algae and poop begin to be broken down in the water, the bacteria performing this process consume oxygen. If oxygen levels decline too much, fish and other aquatic life may suffer or die.
Pets are not the only source of bacteria in our creeks and lakes. However, recent estimates put the number of dogs in McKinney at about 53,000! Further, it is estimated that only about half of these dogs have owners who pick up after them regularly. We may not be able to control the habits of wildlife in the city, but we can control our own actions and pick up after our pets.
What should you do with your pet's waste?
- Flush it! You can pick up poop with a pooper scooper or plastic bag and flush it down the toilet. Toilet water goes to a treatment plant, and the waste will be properly removed before the water is released into the environment. Don’t flush plastic bags though!
- Toss it! Collect the waste in a plastic bag, tie the bag securely and toss it in a garbage can.
- Bury it! Pet waste can be buried six inches below the surface and be allowed to decompose naturally.
- When you walk your dog, keep plastic bags attached to your pet’s leash so you will always have them handy.
Plant or Mulch Your Yard to Reduce Sediment
Sediment is one of the biggest threats to healthy creeks. It can clog storm drains, leading to flooding during heavy rains. Soil and other small particles deposit in creek bottoms, which causes creeks to flood during storms.
Sediment also clouds water, making it difficult for aquatic plants to thrive in our waterways, and even harming aquatic animals by clogging their gills and reducing their ability to find food. It can also bind to harmful chemicals and metals, facilitating the transport of these toxic materials into surface water. Keep your precious soil in its place by making sure all areas of your yard are vegetated or mulched, to prevent erosion.
Bag or Compost Your Yard Waste
Yard waste includes leaves, grass clippings and other organic items you trim from your yard. When raking leaves or mowing the lawn, bag them, or, better yet, leave them on your lawn. Leaves and grass will naturally compost, feeding your lawn and enriching your soil.
Do not blow leaves or grass into the street or the storm drain. These materials can clog storm drains and if they enter creeks, can lead to an increase in nutrients in the water.
Although this sounds healthy (nutrients are great, right?) too many nutrients can cause eutrophication, which allows algae to thrive in streams or lakes. Excess algae is not only unsightly but can be smelly. When it dies, bacteria in the water consumes oxygen while the algae is decomposing, creating an unhealthy and potentially lethal environment for fish and other critters.
Don’t forget lawn chemicals! These can definitely contribute to unhealthy creeks and lakes. Take care not to apply fertilizers and herbicides over paved areas such as sidewalks, driveways and streets. These chemicals can easily be flushed into the storm sewer during rains or overwatering. Follow the label instructions carefully, and do not over-apply chemicals, or apply immediately before a rain event when they are more likely to run off into lakes and streams.