Barks for the Bay: Pick up after your pet. Pet waste contains nutrients and bacteria that can wash into local waterways and eventually the Chesapeake if left on the ground. 

With the holiday season upon us, our attention turns to giving gifts to friends and family or ways to contribute to charities. Thoughts also turn toward New Year’s resolutions as we look for ways to improve ourselves or our world. So this is a perfect time to reflect on how to reduce your impact on Earth by helping to conserve the air, water, land and wildlife that surround and sustain us. If you need a little help deciding what you can do, here’s a gift list to choose from.

Conserve Water

  • Using less water means that less water is treated in a sewage treatment plant or septic system.
  • Fix leaky toilets and faucets.
  • Take short showers instead of baths. Cutting your shower time by five minutes can save 10–12 gallons of water per shower.
  • Turn off water when not in use while brushing teeth, shaving or washing dishes.
  • Install a low-flow shower head.
  • Run only full loads of laundry and dishes.
  • Instead of asphalt or concrete, use porous surfaces like gravel or pavers to pave your driveway or patio.
  • Pick up after your pet. Pet waste contains nutrients and bacteria that can wash into local waterways if left on the ground.

Practice Conservation Landscaping

  • Plant native plants. Native plants provide food and homes for native wildlife and generally require less overall maintenance.
  • Decrease the size of your lawn. Replace it with shrubs, trees, gardens or meadows.
  • If you must water your lawn or outdoor plants, do so in the early morning. Water evaporates in the heat of the day.
  • Try safer alternatives for controlling pests. If you must buy toxic products, choose the least toxic product you can find and never buy or use more than you need.
  • Instead of chemical weed killers, try nontoxic alternatives like soap, salt or vinegar. Pull or dig up weeds. Learn to live with them.
  • Start a compost pile to reduce your carbon footprint and put organic waste to work feeding household and garden plants.
  • Protect the soil below your gutter downspout by using drainage tiles or splash blocks to redirect and slow stormwater. Or, direct downspout flows into rain barrels, rain gardens or a permeable layer of rocks.

Protect Waterways

  • Keep sewage in a portable toilet or holding tank on your boat. Dispose of it only at an approved pump-out facility.
  • Thoroughly clean your boat’s hull and all fishing gear before moving to another body of water to prevent the movement of invasive aquatic plants and animals.
  • Stow and secure used bags, bottles, fishing lines and other trash on your boat so litter doesn’t fall into the water.
  • Never dump bait or aquarium species into a storm drain or body of water
  • Follow speed limits and no-wake laws to avoid churning up sediment or eroding nearby shorelines.
  • Steer clear of Bay grass beds to avoid harming this critical habitat and food source.
  • Don’t pour expired or leftover drugs down the sink or flush them down the toilet. They can end up in local streams and rivers. Instead, return unused medicine to a consumer drug return location.

Use Less Electricity

  • Much of your home’s energy is supplied by burning coal, which sends pollutants into the air
  • If possible, set your thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer to cut down on energy use.
  • Turn off lights and unplug appliances when not in use. For hard-to-reach outlets, plug devices into a power strip that can easily be switched off.
  • Run dishwashers, washing machines and dryers only when full.
  • Wash clothes in cold water.
  • Hang your clothes outside to dry instead of using dryers.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances.
  • Make sure your house is properly insulated.
  • Replace incandescent, halogen and compact fluorescent light bulbs with energy-saving LED bulbs.

Maintain Septic Systems

  • If you have a septic system, have it pumped out every three to five years. This will allow your septic tank to operate efficiently.
  • Be careful not to flush or pour anything into your drains that will kill the bacteria that live in your septic tank. Healthy colonies of bacteria in your septic tank are necessary for the process that treats wastewater and reduces the nutrient inputs that reach groundwater.
  • Don’t use garbage disposals; they contribute unnecessary solids and grease to a septic system.
  • Don’t plant trees or shrubs near the drain field; their roots can clog drain lines.
  • Distribute water-using activities throughout the week to avoid overloading the system on any given day.

Reduce, Dispose of Chemicals Properly

  • Never pour household chemicals down drains. Read the labels to learn how to properly dispose of chemicals.
  • Fight weeds and insects with products that contain plant-derived, nontoxic ingredients. Make insect repellents using common house-
  • hold items like garlic, vinegar and cooking oil.
  • Contact your local government office to find out about recycling as well as programs for household hazardous waste disposal.

Reduce Waste

  • Recycle your mobile phone, personal computer and other electronic devices.
  • Leaves don’t have to end up in the landfill or the burn pile. Instead, consider mulching, composting or curbside collection.
  • Plan meals to reduce food waste.
  • Go paperless.
  • Use local recycling programs.

Reduce Car Use

  • Reducing car use will decrease the amount of nutrients & toxic substances flowing into storm drains.
  • Plan trips to minimize miles driven.
  • Combine errands to avoid unnecessary trips.
  • Use public transportation, bicycle or walk when possible.
  • Join a carpool or ride-sharing program.
  • If possible, telecommute to work.
  • Purchase fuel-efficient automobiles.

Maintain Car

  • Maximize fuel efficiency by keeping a car maintained and properly inflating tires. On average, tires lose about 1 psi per month and 1 psi for every 10-degree drop in temperature.
  • Clogged air filters can cause up
  • to a 10 percent increase in fuel consumption.
  • Avoid unnecessary idling. Most new cars do not need to be warmed up. Unnecessary idling wastes fuel, costs money and pollutes the air.
  • Fix car leaks so engine fluids like oil and antifreeze don’t drip onto the ground and run off into waterways.
  • Dispose of used motor oil and antifreeze at a gas station or a landfill with an oil-recycling program.
  • To learn more about how you can make a difference, look up these organizations on the internet: Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Native Plant Center, Chesapeake Bay Program, U.S. Department of Energy.

Kathryn Reshetiloff, a Bay Journal columnist, is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.

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