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Originally published Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 8:13 AM

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You and storm water: A major source of pollution

You and your neighbor among the biggest source of water pollution in the U.S

McClatchy Newspapers; By Terri Bennett

How would you feel if you knew that you and your neighbors are the biggest source of water pollution in the U.S.? Well, it's true.

It's generally not intentional, but each day we all do things that add up to one big problem.

Storm water runoff is just what it sounds like: water from rain or snowmelt that flows over the ground. Impervious surfaces like driveways, streets and parking lots prevent storm water from being absorbed into the ground, contributing to the flow of runoff.

Storm water flows downhill to the nearest storm drain. What most people don't understand is that anything that enters a storm drain flows untreated into a nearby creek, river or lake. These rivers and lakes are the source of drinking water to 85 percent of Americans and a valued resource for swimming, boating or fishing for all of us.

Our lifestyles contribute to many sources of pollution that end up in storm water runoff.

Litter is one way we pollute our water. Yes, it's unsightly but it can also harm or kill aquatic life such as fish, turtles, ducks and birds. All of these creatures contribute to maintaining a healthy eco-system.

Excess nutrients are a major source of contamination. When we use too much fertilizer on our lawn and garden or apply it right before a heavy rain, the excess is picked up by storm water runoff and dumped into our waterways. The over-load of nutrients causes algae to bloom. These so called 'algae blooms' remove needed oxygen from the water, choking the life from vital water creatures that help maintain the quality of that waterway.

Bacteria are another problem that could come from a backed up sewage pipe or even from pet waste. You can prevent backed up sewer pipes by not pouring grease down the drain when you cook. This can clog pipes leading to backed up sewage that can spill into our waterways or worse yet, your home. And pick up after your pets. When you consider the fact that there are more than 150 million pet dogs and cats in this country, you soon realize that adds up to a lot of poop that can find its way into storm drains.

Hazardous waste does not belong in our water. Items like used motor oil, insecticides, pesticides, oil-based paints and chemical solvents should never be poured down a storm drain. Use the Zip code search feature at Earth911.com to find out where you can dispose of these items properly.

Lastly, as temperatures rise, many of us will head to the lake or other waterway for fun. Be sure to keep your boating experience an eco-friendly one by collecting your trash and preventing spills as you refill the gas and oil.

Less than 1 percent of the planet's water is available for us to drink. Do Your Part to keep it clean.

(Terri Bennett is an Earth scientist, syndicated columnist and mom. Send questions to terri@doyourpart.com. Get more every day green living tips at www.DoYourPart.com.)

The Charlotte Observer, www.charlotteobserver.com/

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