When it rains, it pours … carrying everything with it into our streams

If you are reading this, you have obviously survived the Fourth of July deluge. As you probably know, we received the same amount of rain in a few days that we usually do in the whole month of July. This, of course, ruined many Independence Day barbecues and rained on our beloved parade and downtown festivities. I say beloved, because to me, they really are.

I love the Fourth of July. I mostly love the parade and everything that surrounds it. I love that I have been going to downtown Lexington on July 4 since I was in college, and I still find it as entertaining as ever, even with two kids in tow. I love that even though I lived for a while in Seattle and Scotland, there was nothing to compare to my memories of the Fourth in Lexington (OK, so I guess Scotland does not really count). This year was the first that I stayed indoors, and I definitely did not love that.
water wise bug

One of the hazards of my job is seeing everything in terms of how it affects our environment. So, while I was at a friend’s house who was managing to entertain 20-plus adults and 10-plus antsy kids who were unable to watch fireworks, I spent some of the time thinking about the rivers of water going down our streets.
As many of you know (but not enough according to a survey done by the city of Lexington), everything that is on the ground ends up in our water. The water that our kids play in (if lucky enough to live by a creek), the water we drink and the water that gives a home to many different fish and animal species. So that means that litter, cigarette butts, pet waste, oil from leaky cars, and excess lawn chemicals all end up, untreated, in our local streams.
Everything we do affects water quality. That is a pretty powerful statement, but there is a lot of good that can come from that power. Some of the things that we can do to positively affect our local streams are to NOT do things. Do NOT litter, do NOT throw cigarette butts on the ground and do NOT pour anything down storm drains. But, because Bluegrass Greensource aims to be a positive organization, let’s mention some of the things you CAN do!
1 barrel

Catch the rain
Rain barrels (find out more here) hold 55 gallons of water from rain on your property. That means that those 55 gallons will not pick up the extra pet waste or lawn chemicals and bring them to your neighborhood creek. Rain barrels are easy to install, easy to maintain and easy to buy (or make.Contact Greensource to find out about the next rain barrel workshop or for information about buying rain barrels).


Spread the word
You may have noticed the various kinds of storm drain paintings around your community. Some are simple stencils that say “Dump no waste, Drains to Stream,” and some are the more elaborate and beautifully decorated storm drains done by the talented Blake Eames. Stay tuned, because Bluegrass Greensource will soon announce the winner of our very own storm drain stencil design competition. We have a handful of design firms competing to have their stencil chosen to be placed throughout Central Kentucky and to potentially become the new icon for water quality. However, it is done, if you know a group who is interested in painting on city streets in the name of water quality, let me know!
2 barrel

Plant it
Water that falls on your property can also run off with some of your soil. Erosion is one of the major causes of pollution in Kentucky and throughout the United States. Bare spots in your yard, as well as improperly maintained construction sites, can be major contributors to sediment in water.
In addition, don’t forget the benefits of rain gardens. Rain gardens (find out more here) are planted, usually with native plants, in depressions in your yard and are designed to hold water for 24 for 48 hours after a rain event. This allows the water to soak in instead of running off with the pollutants.
What other way to celebrate our great country than by protecting our waterways, especially now that you have the resources to implement small changes that can make a big impact. I won’t miss the parade again, but maybe I will take my girls to the creek to celebrate before heading downtown next year.
Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 11, 2013.

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