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Introduction

We all live in a watershed and have a role to play in the health of our local waterways. Water from rainfall and snowmelt flows into surrounding creeks--such as Clear Creek, Jacks Defeat Creek, Beanblossom Creek, Salt Creek-- which then flow into the White River, onward to the Wabash River, then to the Ohio River, to the Mississippi River and finally into the Gulf of Mexico. 

One way to contribute to a healthy watershed is for individuals and businesses to understand non-point sources of pollution and stormwater issues. You can take positive steps towards improving the water on your property. Please see the links below to see how you can be a part of making Monroe County's water healthier!

 

 

Background

What is stormwater? 

Rain, snow, sleet or ice melt flowing over land with all the debris and pollutants picked up along the way. This water flows into a system of pipes that empty directly into our creeks and rivers. Stormwater is not treated at a treatment plant, so it is up to individuals to make sure the water dumping into the environment is clean.

What is a watershed?

 A watershed is an area of land where water flows downhill from high points to low points. The low points are creeks, ponds, lakes, and rivers. We all live in a watershed, and what happens on land is directly connected to water quality. 

The Relationship between Stormwater and Watersheds

Water flowing over the surface of the land is a part of the natural water cycle. In a natural setting without human interference the water tends to soak into the soil. In the Midwest the soil quality is very good and has open spaces for the water to infiltrate into the ground. This process is shown in the figure below.

   

 However, in areas that are developed with houses and businesses, the soil is often covered with sidewalks, roads, buildings, or other materials that do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground. These hard surfaces change how water interacts with the land and causes there to be more water flowing over it straight into our waterways. This can cause flooding, increased pollution in our water, and land erosion. Compared to the picture above, less water is able to soak into the ground and more water is flowing over the surface.  

  

Environmental Concerns Related to Stormwater

 Polluted water enters lakes and rivers in two ways: point and non-point sources. Point sources are easy to identify because it comes from a pipe and can be traced back to someone accountable for the pollution they are discharging. The Clean Water Act has special permits and has been successful in reducing pollution from point sources. Non-point sources are harder to control because pollution comes from many different sources and there is no one person accountable for the collective pollution. Classic examples include water coming from parking lots and water flowing over fertilized lawns. Non-point sources, including stormwater, are very significant contributors to water pollution and very difficult to regulate. However, through individual actions pollution can be greatly reduced. Here are some of the environmental concerns connected to stormwater:

  • Roads and Parking Lots

Stormwater flowing over parking lots and roads picks up antifreeze, gasoline, and oil that dripped from cars, as well as heavy metals such as copper, chromium, lead and zinc

  • High Salt Concentrations

Road salt used to melt snow washes directly into our water systems changing the conditions for animal and plant life to survive.

  • High Nutrient Pollution

With increased amounts of nutrients from lawn fertilizer, pet waste and phosphorus-based soaps dumped into the water, algae thrives and increases in population creating a "bloom" that eventually decays, decreasing the amount of available oxygen in the water. As the algae decays, the bacteria feeding on them uses up oxygen. This can lead to fish kills  and the algae can produce toxins that are harmful to humans and wildlife.

  • Thermal Pollution

Water running off pavement and roads can be very hot. A change in the temperature of the water can change the suitability for certain animals and plants to survive and reduce oxygen availability. 

  • Sedimentation

Water flowing over construction sites and sand and grit from roadways can polut the water in creeks, rivers, and lakes. The sediment eventually deposits at the bottom but this makes the body of water shallower and can lead to increased temperatures and lower oxygen levels. It can also lead to the clogging of fish gills. Sediment is the most prevalent pollutant in Indiana waterways.

  • Habitat Destruction

When a large amount of water surges into creeks and other waterways it can be very destructive. Stormwater can also carry invasive species to water bodies in Monroe County. 

Social Concerns Relating to Stormwater

Human activity on the land influences the quality of our water. Water quality is connected to our health, safety, and ability to use water for recreational purposes. Stormwater that is not properly managed can cause expensive damage to private and public property and degrade our water supply.

  • Flooding

Roads flooding in Monroe County is a public health and safety risk. Proper stormwater management can help to address road flooding.

  • Ice 

If stagnant water on the roads does not drain properly during the winter there is a greater risk for ice to form on roads. 

  • Loss of Recreational Activities

When the water quality is too poor to support a healthy fish population or is no longer safe for contact with humans, recreational activities are negatively affected.

  • Mosquitoes 

Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water that is not well managed. Good stormwater management reduces this risk.

  • Groundwater Depletion 

As less water infiltrates into the ground to recharge the groundwater, there is a need to dig deeper to reach the water table. This process is expensive, not sustainable, and increases the risk of groundwater contamination. Also, Monroe County has a karst topography, meaning there are sinkholes that connect directly to the groundwater. If polluted stormwater flows into these reservoirs, we are dramatically decreasing groundwater quality.

  • Illness

Disease causing organisms can enter waterways through stormwater. This is a major public health issue that can be prevented. Common sources of bacteria in stormwater are pet waste, geese, and improperly treated sewage. 

Common pollutants and their sources are listed below.

Pollutant

Common Sources

Sediment

Construction sites, bare spots in lawns and gardens, waste water from washing cars and trucks on driveways or in parking lots, and eroding stream banks

Nutrients

Overused or spilled fertilizers, especially on lawns; pet waste; and grass clippings and leaves left on the streets and sidewalks

Disease Organisms

Animal waste, garbage, and improperly treated sewage

Hydrocarbons

Car and truck exhaust, leaks and spills of oil and gas, and burning leaves and garbage

Pesticides

Pesticides over-applied, pesticides applied before a rainstorm, and spills and leaks

Metals

Cars and trucks and galvanized metal gutters and downspouts

Source: Clemson Extension, "South Carolina Home - A - Syst. An Environmental Risk - Assessment Guide for Protecting Water Quality"

Conclusion

As Monroe County residents, it is up to us to make sure we live in a healthy environment with clean water. Individual actions do have an impact!  If you have any questions or concerns about your stormwater please contact us at 812-349-2960.

 

 

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