Clean Water Tips (Residential)

Cheltenham Township's Top 10 Tips

Little actions can have big impacts. That’s the idea behind MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System), a federal program to promote clean water. Previous legislation targeted industry to curb water pollution. Today, stormwater runoff is the #1 pollution problem. When rainwater or snowmelt flows across the ground and pavement, the water picks up debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants and carries them either directly into the Tookany Creek or through storm drain inlets that empty into the waterway.

Everyone has to do their part to keep our water clean. Please follow all of the tips that apply to help keep our streams and creeks healthy now and for generations to come.

  1. Disconnect sump pumps that empty into the sanitary sewer. During heavy rains, sump pumps that discharge into the sanitary sewer can overload the system, causing sewer backups into homes and businesses and overflows into the Tookany Creek. These conditions present health hazards to the entire community. Eventually, sump pump excesses could overwhelm the sanitary system, which would cost millions to replace. That’s why it is illegal to discharge sump pumps into the sanitary sewer.
  2. Never dump anything into storm drain inlets. Everything that enters the storm drain inlets along Township roadways ends up in the Tookany Creek. Don’t dump oil, trash, leaves, pet waste or any other material into the inlets.
  3. Pick up pet waste. Stormwater will carry pet waste left on the ground into the Tookany Creek, contributing to harmful bacteria, parasites and viruses in our water. The Township’s Pooper Scooper Law requires pet owners and caretakers to properly dispose of pet waste in the trash or toilet. Learn more about managing pet waste.
  4. Practice environmentally friendly lawn and garden care. Use only organic fertilizers and use them sparingly. Avoid pesticides. These toxic chemicals will be swept into local waterways by stormwater runoff and harm aquatic life.
  5. To reduce runoff, direct downspouts over porous, not paved, surfaces. Or use a rain barrel to collect rainwater for later use in your lawn or garden. Consider porous material when adding or replacing a patio or driveway on your property.
  6. Practice environmentally friendly automotive care. Check your vehicles for leaks and fix any immediately. Use a professional car wash or wash your car on your lawn instead of your driveway so the water seeps into the ground instead of creating runoff.
  7. If you have a septic system, have it pumped and inspected regularly.
  8. Don’t dump anything into streams or position items near waterways. Even garden debris like leaves, branches and grass clippings are hazardous to our waterways because excess amounts are harmful to aquatic life. Keep lawn furniture and gardening tools away from waterways since heavy rains may wash them away.
  9. Protect riparian buffers. Don’t mow to the edge of streambanks. Allow native vegetation to grow freely in a 10-foot strip along the bank to reduce erosion and to help filter out pollutants.
  10. Participate in community cleanups, like the Earth Day activities held each April.

Do's and Don'ts around the House

Household Chemicals

  • Be aware that many chemicals commonly used around the home are toxic. Select less-toxic alternatives. Use non-toxic substitutes wherever possible.
  • Buy chemicals only in the amount you expect to use and apply them only as directed. More is not better.
  • Take unwanted household chemicals to hazardous-waste collection centers; do not pour them down the drain. Pouring chemicals down the drain could disrupt your septic system or contaminate treatment plant sludge.
  • Never pour unwanted chemicals on the ground. Soil cannot purify most chemicals, and they could eventually contaminate runoff.
  • Use low-phosphate or phosphate-free detergents.
  • Use water-based products whenever possible.
  • Do not indiscriminately spray pesticides, either indoors or outdoors, where a pest problem has not been identified. Dispose of excess pesticides at hazardous-waste collection centers.

Landscaping and Gardening

  • When landscaping your yard, select plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers and pesticides and that are native to your region.
  • Cultivate plants that discourage pests. Minimize grassed areas, which require high maintenance.
  • Preserve existing trees, and plant trees and shrubs to help prevent erosion and promote infiltration of water into the soil.
  • Use landscaping techniques, such as grass swales (low areas in the lawn) or porous walkways, to increase infiltration and decrease runoff.

Other landscaping tips:

  • Install wood decking, bricks or interlocking stones instead of impervious cement walkways.
  • Install gravel trenches along driveways or patios to collect water and allow it to filter into the ground.
  • Restore bare patches in your lawn as soon as possible to avoid erosion.
  • Grade all areas away from your house at a slope of one percent or more.
  • Leave lawn clippings on your lawn so that nutrients in the clippings are recycled and less yard waste goes to landfills.
  • If you elect to use a professional lawn care service, select a company that employs trained technicians and follows practices designed to minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Compost your yard trimmings. Compost is a valuable soil conditioner that gradually releases nutrients to your lawn and garden. (Using compost will also decrease the amount of fertilizer you need to apply.) In addition, compost retains moisture in the soil and thus helps you conserve water.Spread mulch on bare ground to help prevent erosion and runoff.Test your soil before applying fertilizers. Over-fertilization is a common problem, and the excess can leach into ground water or contaminate rivers or lakes. Also, avoid using fertilizers near surface waters. Use slow-release fertilizers on areas where the potential for water contamination is high, such as sandy soils, steep slopes, compacted soils and verges of waterbodies. Select the proper season to apply fertilizers—incorrect timing could encourage weeds or stress grasses. Do not apply pesticides or fertilizers before or during rain because of the strong likelihood of runoff.
    Calibrate your applicator before applying pesticides or fertilizers. As equipment ages, annual adjustments might be needed.
  • Keep storm gutters and drains clean of leaves and yard trimmings. (Decomposing vegetative matter leaches nutrients and can clog storm systems and result in flooding.)

Water Conservation

Homeowners can significantly reduce the volume of wastewater discharged to home septic systems and sewage treatment plants by conserving water. If you have a septic system, by decreasing your water usage, you can help prevent your system from overloading and contaminating ground water and surface water. (Seventy-five percent of drainfield failures are due to hydraulic overloading.)

  • Use low-flow faucets, shower heads, reduced-flow toilet flushing equipment, and water-saving appliances such as dish- and clothes washers.
  • Repair leaking faucets, toilets and pumps.
  • Use dishwashers and clothes washers only when fully loaded.
  • Take short showers instead of baths and avoid letting faucets run unnecessarily.
  • Wash your car only when necessary; use a bucket to save water. Alternatively, go to a commercial carwash that uses water efficiently and disposes of runoff properly.
  • Do not over-water your lawn or garden. Over-watering can increase leaching of fertilizers to ground water.
  • When your lawn or garden needs watering, use slow-watering techniques such as trickle irrigation or soaker hoses. (Such devices reduce runoff and are 20 percent more effective than sprinklers.)

Other Areas Where You Can Make a Difference

  • Drive only when necessary. Driving less reduces the amount of pollution your automobile generates. Automobiles emit tremendous amounts of airborne pollutants, which increase acid rain; they also deposit toxic metals and petroleum by-products into the environment. Regular tune-ups and inspections can help keep automotive waste and by-products from contaminating runoff. Clean up any spilled automobile fluids.
  • Recycle used oil and antifreeze by taking them to service stations and other recycling centers. Never put used oil or other chemicals down storm drains or in drainage ditches. (One quart of oil can contaminate up to two million gallons of drinking water!)