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If we keep rain clean by reducing non-point source pollution sources, we can make our lakes and rivers safer for swimming, habitat and improve drinking water quality downstream. Here are a few common pollutants and how we can reduce their effects.

Pick up dog waste. Use a compostable bag, then bury or compost it properly.

Dogs, being carnivorous, have waste that is four times as dangerous (total coliforms and E.coli) as humans, but you can find it lying around any park or neighbourhood where it washes off lawns and sidewalks and is carried, untreated, directly to the nearest water body via the stormsewer. This creates a significant human health hazard every time it rains. Dog waste is often the primary cause of urban beach closures.

You can buy compostable bags from pet stores or make your own scooper from folded newspaper. Build a dog waste composter in your back yard and let it decompose naturally. Leave the compost in place to provide fertilizer for nearby trees and bushes. (Watch this great How to video from City Farmer.)

Wash your car at a commercial carwash.

When you wash your car in the driveway the effluent (solvents, fuels, heavy metals) washes off the driveway and runs, un-filtered, directly to the nearest body of water via the stormsewer. Take your car to a commercial carwash where the waste water will be treated. Even better, look for the International Carwash Association WaterSavers sign of approval indicating the sustainable practices of individual carwashes.

Put your driveway on a non-toxic diet.

De-icing salt might help keep your sidewalk and driveway clear of ice, but is a huge source of pollution when it washes, untreated into the nearest lake or river. Driveway sealants also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that degrade and runoff, contributing to the overall burden in the nearest surface water. Consider your options carefully. Green Venture in Hamilton has the best advice. (Read more...)

Spread only natural fertilizers. Apply only during dry weather.

Fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. When applied in granular form on compacted lawns it is easy to lose most of it down the stormsewer the next time it rains. This can cause an algal bloom and over growth of invasive plants in your nearest lake or river. Apply composted organic matter to well turned beds and help the goodness soak into the ground the next time it rains. When applying to lawns, always aerate first. The Organic Landscape Alliance has a number of great how to videos. (See more...)

Butt cigarettes out properly and put them in the garbage.

Cigarette butts (used filters) contain a deadly combination of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals such as cadmium, benzene, arsenic and lead that are partially filtered out during smoking. Cigarette butts dropped on paved surfaces (sidewalks, parking lots, driveways, streets) float away with the rain, down the storm sewer to the nearest body of water, and their contents slowly leach into our drinking water. Fish and other aquatic life often mistake them for food, gulp! Just visit the sidewalks outside of busy coffee shops and bars to get an idea of how many are going to float away in the rain during the next downpour. So please butt out properly and put them in the garbage. Carry a pocket ashtray. If you own or manage an establishment where people smoke outside, provide an ashtray and sweep up butts left on the sidewalk. (Read more...)

Use natural cleaning and personal products.

What goes down household drains often ends up in surface water after a heavy rain via combined sewer overflows, sewage treatment bypasses, and leaking sanitary sewer pipes. You can help limit this by using natural cleaning and personal products. Dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals properly, by taking them back to the pharmacy. Do NOT flush them down the toilet. You can find natural cleaning products almost anywhere, but don't be fooled by greenwashing. Read the label. Know what you're looking for. Gill Deacon's new website has a handy wallet size card listing common ingredients to avoid.