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Water Quality

Reduce Stormwater Runoff

​Here are some easy ways to reduce the amount of runoff and improve water quality in nearby lakes and streams.

Use deicing chemicals sparingly
A 20-minute video demonstrating how to clear ice and snow from steps, ramps, curb cuts, entryways, and other small sites without excessive use of deicing chemicals is available on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website. The video was created by the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, University of Minnesota Landcare, Digital Motion, Fortin Consulting, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as part of a comprehensive training effort to reduce the impacts of road salt and deicing chemicals on the environment.

Water the lawn, not the pavement
If you use a sprinkler to water your lawn or garden, make sure you are not watering the driveway, sidewalk, or road. For gardens, try soaker hoses to get the water right to your plants and limit splashing.

Keep your grass longer
The roots of grass are generally as long as the height of the lawn. That means the taller your grass is, the better it can absorb water and the greener it will be. It will require less water and fertilizer and make it harder for weeds to germinate. Set your lawn mower cut height to 2.5 to 3.5 inches.

Plant deep-rooted native plants or trees
Native flowers and grasses can have root systems 4-12 feet deep. These deep roots anchor the plants and keep soil from washing away. They also increase the amount of water the soil can absorb. Select your favorite native plants at Blue Thumb-planting for clean water.

Buffer your shoreline
A shoreline with trees and native plants will hold the soil steady when it rains. Buffers also catch and filter many of the pollutants found in melting snow and stormwater runoff.

Wash your car responsibly
Commercial car wash facilities often recycle their water or are required to send their wash water to the wastewater treatment plant, so if at all possible, use a facility to keep your car clean.

If you wash your own car, use soap labeled “non-toxic,” “phosphate free,” or “biodegradable.” The safest products are vegetable-based or citrus-based. You should also stay away from acid-based wheel cleaners and engine degreasers. Wash your car on grass, gravel or a location where the water can be diverted to nearby landscaping. This allows the water to soak into the ground and not run into storm drains.

Soften your soil
The soil beneath most residential lawns is highly compacted and absorbs little water. You can reduce soil compaction and improve infiltration in your lawn by renting a lawn aerator from a local garden supply store.

Don’t over water
Grass can only absorb about 1 inch of water at a time. Try this trick: place an empty tuna can in your lawn and turn on the sprinkler. When the can is full, the grass has had enough water. When all of the water in the can evaporates, it is time to water again. You might not have to water as often as you think.

Sweep up grass clippings on paved areas
Grass clippings are a source of phosphorus, the nutrient that turns lakes and rivers green with algae. Sweep up grass clippings that end up on streets, sidewalks, and driveways, so they don’t end up in the nearest water body. Keeping grass clippings on your lawn adds nutrients and shades the soil to retain moisture. You can reduce fertilizer use by one-third to one-half when you leave clippings.

Test the soil
Minnesota soils are naturally high in phosphorus, so lawns usually don't need any extra. But to determine if your lawn is nutrient poor and requires fertilizer, have a soil test completed by the University of Minnesota soil testing laboratory.

Use zero phosphorus fertilizer
Protect water quality by using fertilizers that don’t contain phosphorus—it’s the law in Minnesota. Look on the label for a middle number of zero. Fertilizer in GreenUpYourLawn.pdfstormwater runoff heads to surface waters and overfeeds algae. Too much algae lowers oxygen levels and darkens the water, which has devastating effects on fish populations. A common cause of lake and river pollution is phosphorus runoff. If you have leftover fertilizer, take it to The Recycling Zone.

Last updated: 3/4/2014 9:47 AM