Top 10 Individual Actions You Can Take to Protect Your Local River

1. Prevent stormwater runoff.

Rainfall washes all kinds of pollution from parking lots, lawns, and roads into our rivers, which can degrade the water quality and harm both people and wildlife. (LINK TO STORMWATER PAGE). You can help rivers stay healthy by keeping rain where it lands. One easy way is to cut your lawn grass to three inches or more to promote water retention. The taller the grass, the deeper its roots. And the deeper its roots, the more absorptive the ground will be. Leaving lawn clippings in place also encourages richer, more absorptive soils. Finally, reroute your downspouts away from pavement and into grass, a rain barrel or rain garden.

2. Collect rainwater for watering your garden.

Consider planting a rain garden or using a rain barrel- maybe a combination! Rain barrels collect the rain that runs off your roof and slides down your gutters so you can use it later to water your garden or lawn. But rain barrels do more than conserve water, they also prevent stormwater runoff! This also reduces the pollution stormwater carries from entering already-taxed stormwater systems.

3. Pick up after your pet.

Make sure to pick up after your four-legged friends. Pet waste contains harmful bacteria. If pet waste is still in your yard or at the park when it rains, bacteria leaches into runoff and into the river. Many rivers in Massachusetts are impaired for E. coli, so it is imperative that we limit excess bacteria as much as possible. So be vigilant, especially before rain and snowmelt events.

4. Plant native species in your garden or lawn.

Local plant species that are already adapted to our New England climate will be less likely to require excess watering to grow, and they are more likely to absorb rainfall and hold soil in place. This will enable you to both conserve water and decrease stormwater runoff pollution.

5. Switch up your winter de-icing strategy.

Road crews often use salt to melt ice on streets and highways, but these salt deicers are one of the primary sources of chloride pollution in our rivers and streams. Just 1 teaspoon of salt can permanently pollute 5 gallons of water. Use these safe alternatives on your walkways and driveway: (1) shovel early and often to prevent ice buildup; (2) use deicers sparingly and sweep up extra for future use; and (3) when it’s truly cold, turn to an alternative deicer than salt, or try sand for traction.

6. Stop aquatic hitchhikers.

As you explore our rivers and streams, help protect them by keeping invasive species at bay. Trailers and boats of all kinds can pick up unintended hitchhikers like mussels and plants. Some are harmless, but others can significantly disrupt (and harm) the next ecosystem you visit. So when you dock, clean off any visible plants or animals from the hull. Then drain any water you’ve picked up (including ballast tank, motor or bilge).

7. Adopt a local storm drain.

Grass clippings and leaves that blow into the street will wash down the storm drain and into the river. Why would these natural materials be a problem? All that organic matter has to decompose, sucking up oxygen and releasing nitrogen in our rivers and streams — factors that lead to fish kills and algal blooms. One solution is to adopt your street’s storm drain. When walking in your neighborhood, stop by and scoop out whatever is caught in the grate. Before big storms, be sure to unclog the drain and also be sure to prevent buildup by raking leaves out of your street.

8. Dispose of chemicals properly.

Never pour chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil or paint into the drain or toilets. Check with your town or city hazardous waste program to properly dispose of or recycle chemicals and keep them out of rivers and streams.

9. Join your local watershed association or river friend group.

You will join a network of locals who are motivated by the same issues you are, you will be plugged in to local events and volunteering opportunities, and you will be directly supporting efforts to make your local rivers and streams healthier. Need ideas for which groups to join in your area?

10. Join the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance.

You will get information on the biggest statewide issues for rivers and streams, learn about options to advocate for our river at the local, state and federal level, and you’ll join a network of organizations making the biggest difference for water in our state.