"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. " Margaret Mead

With temperatures dropping and winter looming, many of us are spending more time indoors, hunkering down. We become more displaced from the outside world and often forget about issues concerning the Chesapeake Bay watershed and its wildlife.

Despite this, we can still be involved. During this season of giving, we can each give something back to the Bay by changing our own behavior.

There are more than 16 million people living in the watershed. If each of us alters our daily lifestyle—just a little—the combined effort can reduce environmental stresses on the Bay.

Take a look at some of the suggestions listed here. Then, make a New Year’s resolution to do your part to help the Chesapeake!

Å Reduce the Input of Pollutants: Before applying fertilizers, contact the state Cooperative Extension Service about testing your soil. Depending on one’s landscaping needs, the service can offer advice on whether the soil needs additional nutrients, what kind, how much and when to apply. Never apply more than is needed or just before rain is predicted.

Property owners who reduce the amount of fertilizer they use will not only decrease nutrient inputs to the watershed but will also save money. Start a compost pile to create a soil conditioner.

Consider using alternative, nontoxic products, such as phosphate-free detergents and water-based products. Never pour household chemicals down drains. Read the labels to learn how to dispose of chemicals properly.

Contact your local government office to find out about programs for recycling and disposing of household hazardous waste.

Practice Conservation Landscaping: Plant native plants, which require less watering, fertilizers, pesticides and overall maintenance.

Decrease the amount of lawn, and replace it with shrubs, trees, gardens or meadows, which make better use of rain than typical lawn grasses, and thus require less watering once established. These options are also better at trapping and removing nitrogen and pollutants from rain.

Make sure gutters and sprinklers drain into vegetated or gravel areas to reduce runoff. To help prevent erosion and runoff on bare ground, spread mulch over the area.

Try safer alternatives for controlling pests. Choose the least toxic product available and never buy or use more than is needed.

Conserve Water: Using less water translates into less water that has to be treated in a sewage treatment plant or in a septic system. Fix leaky toilets and faucets. Install water-saving devices in the bathroom.

Take short showers instead of baths. Turn off water when not in use while brushing teeth, shaving and washing dishes. Run only full loads of laundry and dishes. Water outdoor plants and yards in the early morning or early evening and/or use soaker hoses.

Maintain Septic Systems Properly: If you have a septic system, have it pumped out every three to five years. This will allow the septic tank to operate efficiently.

Do not to flush or pour anything into one’s drains that will kill the bacteria that live in the septic tank. Colonies of bacteria in septic tanks are necessary to the process that treats wastewater and reduces the nutrient inputs to the groundwater.

Don’t use garbage disposals; they contribute unnecessary solids and grease to a septic system. Use a compost pile instead.

Reduce Electricity Use: Using less electricity reduces the amount that needs to be generated by fossil fuel power plants which will, in turn, reduce the amount of nutrients and toxic substances entering the watershed.

Make sure the house is insulated properly. Turn off the television, radio and lights when not in use. Run dishwashers, washing machines and dryers only when full. Use energy-efficient appliances. Replace incandescent light bulbs with longer-lasting, compact fluorescent bulbs.

Drive Fewer Miles: Driving less will result in reducing the amount of nutrients and toxic substances entering the watershed. Plan trips to minimize miles driven. Combine shopping and other errands to avoid unnecessary trips. Use public transportation, bicycle or walk whenever possible. Join a carpool or ride-sharing program. If possible, telecommute to work.

In addition, consider joining a watershed association or organization that deals with issues important to you.