3 green ways to spring clean your home + protect our waterways at the same time

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Turkey Creek, waterways
Turkey Creek is just one of our area’s beautiful waterways. (Bham Now)

It’s time for spring cleaning, but did you know that how you go about it makes all the difference when it comes to keeping our local waterways as clean as your house? We reached out to the experts at Jefferson County to learn more about the top three home-based water pollutants and what each of us can do about them. Keep reading for all the details.

3 quick + dirty tips to make sure your spring cleaning is actually clean

Let’s cut straight to the chase. Here goes: 

  1. When you wash your car, send the soapy water to your lawn—not the storm drain.
  2. Speaking of your yard, don’t over-fertilize. The resulting algae in creeks and streams is harmful to both plants and aquatic species.
  3. Put your pet’s poop in the garbage—not your yard, or anywhere else.

Need other spring cleaning tips? Jefferson County’s got you covered.

1. Take good care of your car

Car near waterways
Make sure your car is in good working order. (Bham Now)

Did you know that just one drop of oil leaking from each of the 740K vehicles registered in Jefferson County has the potential to pollute 16M gallons of water in our creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes—per day? 

That’s hardcore, so when you take care of your car, realize you’re helping more than just yourself. Here are some top tips: 

DO: Monitor your car for leaks and drips, use drip pans and absorbent pads, then get your car repaired as soon as you can. If you’ve got a big leak or drip on a paved area, absorb it with something like kitty litter, then sweep up the spill and dump it in the trash.

WHY: One drop really does matter. Studies show that four quarts can pollute 1M gallons of surface water. 

waterways Jefferson County
So many creatures live near our waterways. (Bham Now)

DO: Be intentional when washing your car at home. Wash it on a pervious surface such as grass or gravel which can filter the water. If you’re washing on concrete or asphalt, divert the wastewater to a yard so it doesn’t enter the street and storm water drainage system. 

WHY: All that crud you wash off your car mixes with detergents, then runs down the driveway into the street. Once it goes down the storm drain, it ends up in the nearest creek, stream, river or lake. There, it pollutes our drinking water and kills fish and other aquatic life. We’re pretty sure that’s not what you were intending on that sunny day you decided to wash your car. 

DO: Hit up your local commercial car wash. WHY: They have equipment that reuses wash water, then filters out oil and grease for proper disposal. The fish—and our drinking water—will thank you.

2. Don’t over-fertilize your yard

Garden in Jefferson County
How does your garden grow? (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

Of course you want a beautiful yard and a flourishing garden. What you may not have realized is that bag of weed and feed you picked up last weekend could be harming our local waterways. Turns out, extra fertilizer washing off lawns and gardens is actually a major source of stormwater pollution. 

“It’s so much easier and more cost effective for both the homeowner and us if they put down less fertilizer. It costs us tens of millions dollars in equipment and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to remove phosphorus at the plant site, which we are required to do per Alabama Department of Environmental Management.”

David Denard, Jefferson County Director of Environmental Services Division

DO: Make good landscape choices. 

DO: Make good chemical choices.

  • Choose the least toxic chemical products, and spot treat to protect waterways. Apply products when there’s no rain in the forecast, and avoid applying on windy days.
  • Be sure to calibrate your spreader to the correct setting before applying fertilizer—read and follow label directions. 
  • Store chemicals in sealed containers, in an area that’s not exposed to rain.

DO: Dispose of extras safely.

  • Dispose of extras at Household Hazardous Waste Days. The next one’s coming up April 9, 2022 from 8-11:30AM (or until capacity is met) at locations in Gardendale, Irondale and Bessemer.

WHY: Fertilizers cause excessive algae blooms in waterways that reduce oxygen in the water and kill fish. Pesticides and herbicides kill insects and other aquatic life, as well as plants that are necessary in the waterway food chain.

3. Pick up your pet’s poop

scoop your pet's poop
Never forget a bag again. (Oceanside Vets)

DYK: We have 150K domesticated dogs living in Jefferson County, and all together, they produce 38 tons of waste a day. That is a whole lot of poop. 

If you’re a pet owner, do the right thing and pick up after your pet—whether it’s in the street, on the sidewalk or even in your own yard. 

pet waste, Jefferson County
Always be sure to pick up your pet’s poop. (Bham Now)

WHY: Poop carries bacteria, viruses and parasites that affect the creatures living in the water, make people sick and affect our drinking water. Gross.

Here’s what you need to do: 

  1. Pick it up—always. 
  2. Bag it.
  3. Trash it.

Wondering what to do with other things you’re cleaning up this spring? Check out Jefferson County’s new Keep it Clean page for lots more pro tips

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Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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