Ten things your parents Part 2
never told you about
1. Today most water pollution motor oil or pesticides that enter lakes and In some cities, such as Grand Rapids, it may
streams or seep into groundwater. take only 15 to 30 minutes for pollutants to travel
has become “pointless.”
Let’s talk watershed Many people still think that most pollution in
from your street to the Grand River via the storm
The Grand River Watershed, the Lower sewer system.
the Grand River comes directly from a factory 2. Hard surfaces are hard on rain The more houses, shops, factories and other
Grand to those of us east of Portland in — known as “point-source pollution.”
Ionia County, is defined by the flow of At one time, this was true. Pollutants were
… we can’t protect water quality development a watershed contains, the more
water to the same destination – with parking lots. impervious surfaces and water-quality problems.
discharged through pipes – a single point –
the Grand River. When early settlers entered the Grand River Many studies have found that the percentage
directly into the river. Pollution could be traced
The high points of the land mark a wa- watershed, they were in the middle of a very of imperviousness can be an indicator of water
to a single source, a specific business or
tershed where water is pulled by gravity to large forest that caught the rain as it trickled quality in a watershed.
the river itself. Water is almost constantly down to the ground. Then it either soaked into With less than 10 percent impervious surfaces,
Since the passage of pollution-control laws
on the move as it travels from the clouds the soil or slowly made its way into streams and water quality is usually fairly good. Impervious
in the 1970s, most point sources of pollution
to your yard into the river or lake and back then into the river. surfaces at 10 to 25 percent have a noticeable
have been cleaned up significantly.
into the clouds through the Today, rain falls on the hard surfaces of impact on water quality and in watersheds with
Today we have to look into the entire Grand
hydrologic or water cycle. pavement and rooftops. These hard or “impervi- more than 25 percent, water quality can be seri-
River Watershed to find and fight “nonpoint
Watersheds are more than water — ous” surfaces keep water from soaking into the ously degraded.
sources of pollution.” These pollutants can’t
they also include all of the land over which be as easily traced to one single source, but ground. They include driveways, paved roads,
water travels. Notice how rain flows in they now cause the most pollution. sidewalks and parking lots — and even our lawns
your yard and how it either stays or moves There is also no easy way to measure how can be impervious.
along into the street. much pollution is entering the river. Rainwater When rain is not absorbed by the ground,
Do you know where rain goes after it or snowmelt carries a mix of pollutants from the heat, quantity and speed of rain running off
leaves your yard? farm fields, suburban lawns and city streets. increases and a variety of pollutants are carried
This runoff may carry with it such pollutants away. When the runoff reaches nearby streams
as fertilizer, road salt, sediment, bacteria, and the Grand River, water quality is reduced.
to the Watershed Series
Part One Part Two Part Three
What watershed are Ten things your parents didn’t Have you hugged your green
you drinking? tell you about nonpoint source
pollution infrastructure today?
Although we typically identify where we live in Water quality declines where land use exposes In the past, rain falling on the Grand River Water-
terms of cities, zip codes, or school districts, we rainwater or snowmelt to various contaminants — or shed fell mostly into forests where trees caught and
also live in watersheds, defined by the flow patterns nonpoint sources of pollution. This arises from things filtered it before it flowed into the river. Today, pave-
of rainwater or snowmelt. As part of the earth’s hy- like exposed construction sites, animal or pet waste, ment and sewer systems (gray infrastructure) have
drologic cycle, watersheds help recycle water. litter, leaking cars and uncontrolled farm runoff. It diminished the water treatment services of these
Whenever a body of water is in trouble, one of the is the No. 1 source of pollution to the Grand River. natural systems (green infrastructure).
first things a water-quality specialist investigates is As runoff crosses parking lots, chemical lawns and Such natural systems have become more scat-
its watershed. Water quality is closely tied to what is farms, it picks up whatever is on the ground and tered, isolated and less able to create healthy water-
happening on the land surrounding the water body. takes it to the river. sheds and better water quality.
3. Stormwater is not clean water —
if it’s on the ground, it’s in storm-
Natural Land These lands can be the best places for
building a healthy watershed.
They trap and absorb stormwater, filtering
N it before releasing it slowly into the ground
Stormwater is often described as water
from rain, melting snow and other precipi- Water or surface waters. Only about 10 percent of
stormwater in such areas runs off the land;
tation that turns into “runoff.” Stormwater
most of it is taken up by trees and plants or
runoff moves across land surfaces and 0 5 10 20 Miles soaks into the ground.
returns to rivers often loaded with pollut-
These are the areas of high natural value for
the watershed and we should take great care
The flowing water may pick up salt,
in how we treat them.
sand, soil, pesticides, fertilizers, leaves,
grass clippings, animal waste, oils,
0 5 10 20 Miles
9. Leave the Grand River in better shape
grease, litter and many other pollutants.
It then carries these wastes and chemi- than you found it.
cals through storm sewers or by direct We live in a place of global significance. Nowhere
understand the impact we have on its health. It is 6. Developed lands - PINK ON MAP the stormwater runoff crops or feedlots and surface water.
else on earth is fresh water so available. Here in the
discharge into waterways. These pollutants seriously more difficult for those who never see the river to In neighborhoods layered with impervious surfac- • Toxic chemicals from spills of hazardous products Nonpoint source pollutants from cultivated
harm our waters, contributing to beach closures and Great Lakes Basin, we share responsibility for pro-
understand how water flowing from their yards and es, nonpoint source pollution can be intense. Devel- Preserving water quality doesn’t mean stopping lands might include:
damaging wildlife habitat. tecting fresh-water resources that represent more
farms and businesses reach it. oped areas, whether in cities or rural subdivisions, development. Development can be planned and • Disease-causing pathogens from unmanaged
Storm drains are designed to handle stormwater to than 90 percent of U.S. fresh water and 20 percent of
Understanding this personal connection is criti- include neighborhoods where more than 10 percent designed to minimize nonpoint source pollution and animal waste and overloaded septic system
prevent flooding — they are not designed to remove the world’s available fresh water resources.
cal to the actions under way to restore the Grand of the area contains hard surfaces. These include then controlled by the actions of individuals. • Nutrients from animal wastes, over-applied
pollutants. Some people treat them like garbage cans, Our responsibility starts with the Grand River, which
River. Making the extra effort to reduce chemical and rooftops, driveways, streets, parking lots, sidewalks fertilizers and overloaded septic systems
dumping waste into the drain. is at the heart of our watershed. The river does not
nutrient applications, prevent soil erosion and main- and other surfaces that don’t allow water to readily 7. Cultivated land uses - TAN ON MAP • Soil and sediment from erosion of
have an infinite capacity to absorb all the waste we let
Storm sewers are not connected to wastewater tain wildlife-friendly yards helps the river and Lake soak into the ground. Most lawns are included in this “Producing the goods” can help in producing clean unprotected bare soils
treatment plants. Instead everything that flows or is flow into it. Water quality is tied directly to what we do
Michigan. category. water. • Oil and other fluids that drip from machinery
poured into them is discharged into the nearest water — and don’t do — about nonpoint source pollution.
Storm sewers that take stormwater runoff quickly These are the working lands of the Grand River and vehicles
body. Not only do we harm the Grand River and Lake
5. Land use can predict nonpoint source and directly into streams may or may not be present. Watershed, where land is used to grow crops, sup- • Debris from inappropriate dumping and littering
This is the largest source of pollution for the Grand Michigan, we also diminish our future opportunities
pollution problems. Most nonpoint source pollution associated with de- port orchards and raise livestock, among a variety of • Harmful chemicals spills and improper
River. Stormwater runoff from developed areas tends and the choices that may be available to our children.
When you look at the patchwork of land use across veloped land uses is intensified by these impervious other economically important activities. pesticide uses
to carry higher pollutant loads than runoff from un- What limits the Grand River’s future most is the way
the Lower Grand River Watershed, you can see surfaces, where pollutants build up and high loads Cultivated lands are celebrated in efforts to protect we imagine it. Help us to re-think and re-imagine the
disturbed, natural sites. are discharged through stormwater runoff. open spaces, retain scenic views and preserve rural 8. Natural land uses - GREEN ON MAP
distinct and broadly defined patterns of developed Grand River as a healthy, beautiful, valuable part of
Whatever we put on the land will eventually end up These pollutants may include: character. With impervious land cover often less than Where nature leads, clean water follows.
lands, cultivated lands and natural lands. The map our lives.
mixing with stormwater. Stormwater is only as clean • Nutrients from fertilizers over-applied to lawns 10 percent, cultivation can protect the watershed by As you look around the watershed, you may notice
above offers a glimpse of the watershed and its broad Unless we see the river’s future as something more
as the land it flows over. and plantings and overloaded septic systems filtering stormwater runoff and recharging groundwa- what seems to be lots of open space. Most of these
land uses. than what it is today, we run the risk of shortchang-
This pattern of land use is the most important fac- • Soil and sediment from erosion of unprotected ter and local streams. open spaces are cultivated lands. Only a few natural ing ourselves and our economic future. Each step we
4. Even if you don’t live near the Grand tor affecting water quality in the watershed. Some bare soils or construction sites Cultivated lands require special considerations as remnants of forests, wetlands, and prairies exist in take, no matter how small, will be a step forward.
River, you still can pollute it — and Lake uses involve more hard surfaces where stormwater • Oil and other fluids dripping from vehicles the properties range in size from small family farms the watershed and most are found along waterways.
Michigan. can’t soak in. Pollutants that wash off from the land • Debris from littering and inappropriate dumping to highly intensive operations. Their impact on water Some are uncultivated or idle fields that are return-
Even if you live miles away, your backyard is con- surface reflect the way the land is used. • Disease-causing pathogens from overloaded quality will similarly vary by the location of opera- ing to more-natural conditions. These natural lands
nected to some part of the watershed’s drainage Look at the watershed’s land uses and where you septic systems, unmanaged pet waste and tions relative to surface water, the type and intensity can be sources of our cleanest water, providing a
network. are located. waterfowl feeding of production methods and involvement in conserva- bounty of trees, plants and soils that contribute to
It’s easy for those who live directly on the river to • Thermal pollution from hot surfaces which heat tion programs, such as use of buffer strips between filtration.
Stay in touch with your watershed at www.lgrow.org
Many things you put on the ground or into nearby waterways, then you might
place outside are exposed to stormwa- want to re-think car washing.
ter and can end up in the Grand River • Let the rain wash your vehicles for as
and then into Lake Michigan. Reduce or long as you can bear it.
eliminate the exposure of anything you • Wash a vehicle only when needed
wouldn’t want showing up in your drink- rather than as a weekly chore.
ing water when picked up by rain and • Use a commercial car wash that sends
melting snow. its wastewater to be treated.
The ordinary things we do every day • Wash vehicles on gravel, grass or other
will make a difference. Here are some porous surfaces that filter wash waters.
ideas to get you started. • Use plain water or nontoxic, phosphate-
free or biodegradable soap.
Are you ready to take on • Divert wash water into your landscape
low-impact lawn care? or into a sewer, not into a storm drain.
• Apply lawn chemicals or fertilizer spar-
ingly, if at all. It’s not just the honk, moo,
• Use phosphorus-free fertilizers. neigh, quack or woof that’s
• Memorize the product’s instructions or left behind.
refer to them repeatedly if you decide to
use lawn chemicals.
• Keep your mower in good shape. Leaks
Animal and waterfowl waste is a seri-
ous water-quality problem that is often Living in the Lower Grand
River Watershed - It’s like
overlooked, especially when concen-
from oil, gasoline or hydraulic fluids can trated near waterways.
pollute thousands of gallons of water. Waste from our pets, livestock and fed
• Choose native landscape plants better
suited to watershed conditions.
waterfowl can contain disease-causing
organisms which are carried by storm- sharing your bathtub with
1 million other people
water into our waterways. Such waste
Is your yard shedding water it also contains nutrients that encourage
can be absorbing? undesired weed growth in ponds and
Depending on soil and topography, streams.
your lawn can be quite impervious, so:
• Where rain runs, make it walk. • It’s different when fish do it. For ex- This watershed is a gathering place where people’s lives are
• Where rain walks, make it crawl. ample, there are well over 200,000 dogs connected by falling rain and flowing water and where water
in the Lower Grand River watershed
• Where rain crawls, find ways to make it
contributing nearly 100,000 pounds of
quality is a vital part of its economic possibility.
linger and sink into the ground.
waste each day. When it rains or as the
snow melts, a lot of it can end up in our Who speaks for the watershed?
Did you know that each time The Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds (LGROW) was formed to work with West Michi-
waterways, causing serious problems,
you pick up litter, an angel gets unless responsible pet owners do their
gan communities in restoring, protecting and enhancing water quality in the Grand River Watershed.
LGROW, an agency of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, provides a framework for creating op-
its wings? duty. Scoop it up and dispose of it as de- portunities to achieve local benefits that can carry over across watersheds.
Litter on the ground becomes litter in termined appropriate in your community. Sub-watershed groups take the lead in improving water quality at the grassroots level, emphasizing
our waterways. local interest and local commitment. LGROW serves as an umbrella organization for these groups,
• Set the example for others, especially • Feeding geese and ducks seems so made up of people living and working in several sub-watersheds, such as the Rogue River, Thornapple
children. nice. However when we feed waterfowl, River, Sand Creek, Coldwater River, Spring Lake and Bear Creek.
• Chase litter down. Don’t let it get away we overload the natural systems of our
from you. water resources. These resources can Through the joint efforts of its many partners, LGROW is acting to ensure a healthy and sustainable
• Keep and use a litter bag in your car. Grand River Watershed by:
naturally handle the waste from food
• Participate in community cleanups. provided in the wild, but when we add
1. Providing opportunities for partners to work together in solving watershed problems
• “Adopt a spot” in your neighborhood to unnatural foods, wastes build up and 2. Recognizing and sharing accomplishments and successes
remove litter on a regular basis. overload the natural system. One goose 3. Ensuring that local priorities are represented in regional and statewide efforts
• Start a “litter index” to spot problems produces 1 to 3 pounds of feces each 4. Identifying and pursuing common goals and strategies
and track trends in your community. day. Please don’t feed waterfowl. 5. Collectively setting priorities
• Get behind local “litter-free” outdoor 6. Preparing a Grand River Watershed Management Plan
events and activities. • Our larger animals contribute, too. 7. Organizing and maintaining watershed-based information system
Livestock and other large animals al- 8. Tracking watershed conditions and measuring results
9. Promoting best management practices
Does cleaning a car dirty lowed access to a stream’s edge can
10. Preserving local decision-making authority while encouraging regional cooperation
the river? trample vegetation and cause erosion.
Runoff from cleaning your car, boat Responsible large-animal owners Watershed management is a strategic action for West Michigan. The more partners that sign on, the
or recreational vehicle contains a nasty fence them away from ponds, ditches, stronger and more influential LGROW will be for improving water quality. LGROW sees its efforts as a
mix of oils, detergents and engine grime. wetlands and streams while manag- long-term investment in West Michigan communities.
If this mix flows across pavement into a ing manure so it does not run off with
storm drain and discharges untreated stormwater.
No resource is a precious as clean and safe water.
Our legacy starts with our commitment to
improving water quality.
Our responsibility is to go in that direction.
This Nonpoint Source Pollution Control project has been funded in part through the
Part 3 of 3
Michigan Nonpoint Source Program by the United States Environmental Protection Have you hugged
Agency under assistance agreement C9975474-07 to Grand Valley Metropolitan
Council for the Lower Grand River Watershed Initiatives project. The contents of the your green
document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the EPA, nor does the
mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or
recommendation for use.