Your Part in Protecting Water Quality
by Dale Finseth
As I usually start the season, I'll start with the basics such as a brief definition of "non-point source pollution" or NPS. The term means just what it implies. The pollution comes from many sources instead of a single "point." It's the rain runoff from roofs, parking areas and roadways. It includes the unimpeded runoff from your yard/lawn or a farmer's field. It may include the runoff from a local commercial/retail activity. Some of it may come from an area of the watershed where septic systems are not working effectively. NPS at all those sites add up and have a cumulative effect on our lakes. It all carries silt and chemicals into the water. Often it may be referred to as "stormwater runoff".
How do we address these NPS sites? We use a Best Management Practice, or BMP. (I prefer to use the term "Better Management Practice". It's presumptuous to think we know what is best.) A BMP can be as simple as modifying where the water runoff goes as it heads downhill. Perhaps it is adding vegetation or a berm to slow the impact of rain and slow the runoff as it flows across your yard. Your local watershed group is able to identify different types of BMPs designed to intercept water runoff. The BMP either removes or decreases that runoff's impact on a stream or pond.
What can I do to help protect and even improve the water quality of our marvelous watersheds? This summer's issues of Summertime In the Belgrades, will help readers identify different conservation issues and how to address them. Some of those will be suggestions for how to mediate an NPS site on your own property. It is not essential that you live on the water in order to have an impact on the water quality. We all live in a watershed. The water that leaves your property ends up in one of our streams or ponds. Even if it seems to disappear down a storm drain, that water runoff ends up somewhere. Think about your impact on that water and what it carries to the larger water body.
I recently saw an article from the 30 Mile River Watershed Association which outlined excellent steps to take when opening up your camp for the season. They apply to anyone whether or not they are living along the shore's edge. I've added them below.
Be LakeSmart: Camp Opening Tips
A springtime ritual for many families is opening up their camp for the season. Follow these tips to protect the lake and its wildlife:
- Raking: Do NOT rake up the layer of leaves and pine needles the "duff" that builds up under the trees. This natural mulch acts like a sponge and filter and helps prevent pollutants from getting into the lake.
- Erosion: Check your property for signs of soil erosion, such as exposed rocks and roots and the formation of channels. Stabilize these areas with plants or erosion control mulch. For trouble spots caused by high water flow from steep paths, roofs or driveways, simple conservation practices like these found here will keep soil from polluting the lake.
- Septic System: Check your leach field for any breakouts and consider having the tank pumped if it has not been recently (tanks should be pumped every 2-3 years for year-round residences and every 4-5 years for seasonal residences). Do NOT use any starter products to reactivate the system, as they are unnecessary and can lead to failure of your leach field. A properly functioning septic system prevents harmful pollutants from getting into the lake.
- Boats: Dispose of drained lubricating oils at a recycling facility or bring the oil to your local dealer for disposal. Wash the boat away from the water or at a commercial car wash. Check to make sure that the boat, trailer and other equipment are free of any hitchhiking plants.
- Cleaning Products: Use natural products like baking soda and lemon juice when cleaning and save money while protecting your health and nature.
Dale Finseth is executive diretor of the Kennebec County Soil & Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, call him at
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