Everyone knows that there are environmental laws designed to protect water quality. But, to understand how these laws are applied, one must first know the difference between the two main types of water pollution: Point Source and Nonpoint Source.
Point Source Pollution is a direct discharge into a river, stream, lake or pond. A few obvious examples of a Point Source of pollution would be a sewage treatment plant or an industrial wastewater discharge. A less obvious point source of pollution is generated during earth disturbance at a construction site. Uncontrolled runoff during construction can lead to heavy sediment loading. These impacts are obvious in other parts of the state where streams look like coffee or chocolate milk when it rains.
Because all of these types of activities have pollution potential, they can be regulated by state and federal agencies to minimize the probability that a pollution event will take place. One of the requirements for projects proposing to discharge wastewater is to get a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. Development sites proposing earth disturbance must also have an approved Erosion and Sediment Control plan. In addition, activities in wetlands, stream crossings or floodway encroachments all require permits. To find out if a planned activity may require any permits including an NPDES permit, or an Erosion and Sediment Control Plan, contact the Monroe County Conservation District at 570-629-3060.
Nonpoint Source Pollution is pollution that enters our streams, lakes and ground water from a myriad of unidentified diffuse sources. Nonpoint source pollution is often the direct outcome of stormwater runoff from any type of land cover you may imagine, including: parking lots, rooftops, roads, farm fields and suburban lawns. Along the way, the runoff picks up sediments, nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, animal waste, petroleum distillates, litter and all sorts of other things that can cause degradation in our waterways. In addition, the rainwater itself can be acidic and therefore be considered a nonpoint source of pollution. Failing on-lot septic systems, leaking under ground storage tanks, and things as simple as washing your car in the driveway can all contribute to nonpoint source pollution.
Due to the diffused nature of nonpoint source pollution’s origins, it is much more difficult to regulate. Many municipalities have stormwater management regulations; however, for years, the focus of such regulations was to control volume in order to minimize flood flows from increases in impervious surfaces. New stormwater management plans must take water quality, not just quantity, into account.
The good news is that we can all play a role in minimizing nonpoint source pollution impacts to our streams, lakes and ground water.
Things you can do to protect water resources: Learn your watershed address. If we all learn our watershed address and take stewardship of the stream in our back yard, then we will all benefit. Your watershed address begins with the smallest named body of water to which the water that runs off from your property drains and ends with the Atlantic Ocean. For example, the watershed address of the Monroe County Conservation District is as follows:
Kettle Creek → Appenzell Creek → McMichaels Creek → Brodhead Creek → Delaware River → Delaware Bay → Atlantic Ocean Maintain vegetated buffers around lakes and streams on your property and in your neighborhood. Forested buffers along our streams and other bodies of water reduce impacts caused by runoff flows, intercept sediments, take-up excess nutrients and other pollutants, moderate stream temperatures, and increase wildlife habitat values.
Preserve wetlands on your property and in your neighborhood. Wetlands have numerous water quality and quantity values when looked at from a watershed point of view. In the Poconos, the most common wetland types are swamps, marshes, bogs and vernal pools. Wetlands store stormwater, slowly replenish groundwater aquifers, and filter sediments and other pollutants. Wetlands in the Poconos also provide critical habitats to many of the regions rarest species of plants and animals.
Manage stormwater runoff from your property. Direct runoff to a low point on your property and detain it in a grassy swale or rain garden (a depression in the landscape that uses native vegetation adapted to intermittent inundation to manage stormwater runoff). Direct rooftop runoff onto lawn areas or rain gardens, not the driveway.
Wash the car on the lawn. Do it yourself car washing in urban and suburban areas accounts for a potent mix of petroleum products, salts, detergents, nutrients and toxic heavy metals. Most of us don’t think about the impact this has on the streams receiving this water. The best thing to do is go to a commercial car wash where the water gets recycled and the discharge is regulated. If you must wash the car at home, do it on the lawn where the runoff can be filtered by the grass.
Do not dispose of anything into curbside storm drains. In most communities, these drains lead directly to receiving streams. Even during dry weather, the stuff (oil, pet waste, etc.) you put down the drain will get into the stream the next time it rains. Do not pour petroleum products or solvents down household drains or on the lawn. Return used motor oil, transmission fluid and antifreeze to a reputable dealership or garage, and they will dispose of it properly. Toxics washed down the drain or flushed down the toilet end up in your septic system or sewage treatment plant, neither of which is designed to handle these chemicals. If this is done often enough, water resources can be severely impacted.
Engage in watershed friendly lawn care and landscaping. Reduce the amount of lawn in your yard; create rain gardens for stormwater management, landscape using more trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Leave buffers around streams, lakes and wetlands. If you must use fertilizers, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Do not use excessive herbicides and pesticides. Some products may be environmentally friendly on land but are extremely toxic in aquatic ecosystems, where excess chemicals may end up during a storm event.
Join a local watershed organization and help out. Many of Monroe County’s watersheds now have citizen-based grassroots organizations dedicated to watershed stewardship. Contact them and get involved as a water quality monitor or organize a stream cleanup in your community.
Almost all of Monroe County’s streams are worthy of special protection due to their high quality and exceptionally valuable resources. Preservation of these resources will take the combined efforts of the community working with regulatory agencies. We all have a role to play in making the future bright for our resources. For more information on how you can help, contact Monroe County Conservation District Watershed Specialist, Annie Mikol, at 570-629-3060.
“The people have a right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustees of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all people.” - Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution