What is a watershed? What does it have to do with me?
Have you ever been asked if you live in a watershed? Only to realize you aren't sure because you do not really know what a watershed is. This is not uncommon. The term "watershed" is not historically well-known; however, it is starting to make its way into our conversations. Why? Let us start with defining what a watershed is.
A watershed, also referred to as a drainage basin, is the land area that delivers rain and snow/ice melt to a stream or lake. Watersheds are divided by a ridge of high land which serves to separate two (or more) areas drained by different river systems. So, do you live in a watershed?
Absolutely! Everyone who lives in Michgian lives in a watershed!
So why is it important to know? No matter where you are at any given time, you are in a watershed, and your actions directly impact the health of that watershed. Additionally, the health of that watershed impacts you, everyone around you, and even the communities downstream.
When rain and snow/ice melt travel across the land (watershed) and through storm drains, it is called stormwater or runoff. As this runoff travels it picks up trash, contaminants, sediments, and dissolved substances along the way until it
discharges into the neaest water body. Small streams join to form rivers and flow across sloping land, eventually flowing into a lake. These bodies of water impacted by runoff provide recreational opportunities, habitat for wildlife, and even drinking water for communities. By keeping our cars from leaking, litter off the streets, and properly disposing of animal and chemical wastes we are being good stewards by protecting not only the health of our watershed but also ourselves and everything downstream.
The City of Farmington is withing the Upper Rouge River watershed. To get more information on how you can protect water quality, and to learn more about the Rouge River watershed, please visit the Alliance of Rouge Communities website at www.allianceofrougecommunities.com
or the Friends of the Rouge website at www.therouge.org
What is an outfall?
An outfall is any drain, culvert, tube, pipe, or catch basin that empties into a waterway - Rouge River. Outfalls drain storm water, including rain and snow melt, along with pollutants into the river. Animal waste, illegal storm drain dumping, lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals are only some of the possible pollutants that may enter the river through outfalls.
Did you know that storm drains are directly connected to our lakes, rivers, and streams? When it rains and/or snow melts, anything along the roads, sidewalks, parking lots, and driveways runs into the drains and into our waterways. This is also true when you wash a vehicle in your driveway, or have over-spray when watering your lawn.
You can help!
There are several ways you can help protect the Rouge River watershed. Just to name a few:
- Report any illict connection(s)/discharge(s)
An illicit connection is when a pipe, intended for sanitary sewer, is actually connected to a storm drain or when a pipe, intended for a storm drain, is connected to a sanitary sewer. An illicit discharge is the introduction of polluting materials into a pipe that drains to a surface water or the dumping of polluting material that can impact surface water. When observing a storm drain, remember: If it is not raining, the drain should be dry and ground water crystal clear.
- Do not over water your lawn
Early morning and evening are the best time to water your lawn. Lawns require approximately 1 inch of water per week. Too much water can result in shallow roots, low tolerance to heat and drought, and increased susceptibility to disease. A sign of an over-watered lawn is water runoff onto the sidewalk, driveway, or street carries essential nutrients away from you lawn, and also picks up pollutants that flow into the storm drains. Signs of a healthy lawn are root depth and blade height-especially during long dry periods.
Please make sure sprinklers are directed to water only the grass-not the sidewalk, driveway, or street.
- Do not feed the waterfowl
Feed ducks seems harmless; however, feeding ducks, geese, and other waterfowl encourage them to be dependent on humas instead of migrating south or continuing to seek other food or shelter. As a result, many local parks are overrun with waterfowl (and their feces). Waterfowl waste contributes nutrient and bacterian pollution to the Rouge River. Also, waterfowl need certain nutrients in their diet-NOT BREAD-that exist within the native area.
Not feeding waterfowl helps not only the Rouge River, but also the ducks and geese.
- Properly dispose of pet waste
Pet waste contributes to pollution in the storm drains and waterways. Picking up your pet's waste is helpful to not only the environment, but also courteous to neighbors and other visitors to our city and parks.
Dispensers with pet waste bags are located at various locations throughout the city.
Fertilizer is not always the answer to having the lush, green, weed-free lawn. A healthy lawn can sometimes be accomplished by simply keeping grass 3 inches tall, which helps promote root growth and shades out weeds. Recycling the clippings back into the lawn also helps keep the lawn healthy. Please consider the following when shopping for fertilizer:
- Slow-release promotes steady, uniform growth and is water soluble
- Avoid fertilizer-herbicide mixtures
- Low- or zero-phosphorus fertilizer is best for surface water quality as excessive phosphorus can cause abundant plant and algae growth
When applying fertilizer:
- ALWAYS follow the label instructions EXACTLY
- Never apply at rates heavier than recommended
- Fertilize in late spring and early fall
- Only apply to turf; avoid over-spraying
- Keep at least 20 feet from the edge of lake, river, stream, and storm drain
The best way to know whether or not your lawn needs fertilizer is a soil test. Soil test kits are available from the Oakland County MSU Extension Office at 248-858-0885.
Native plants are a low-maintenance form of landscaping that provides habitat for many birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Thanks to their extensive, deep root system, native landscapes hold rain and survive drought much better than non-native plants and turf grass. Because native plants have adapted to local soils and pests, they require less watering and no chemicals or fertilizers to protect them. That means less pollution to the waterways and less maintenance for you. Creating a "buffer zone" with native landscaping along the Rouge River also helps protect it against excessive pollutant run-off.
Landscaping your property with native plants is very beneficial to not only the environment, but also to you!
- Brine instead of rock salt
Salt keeps our communities safe by reducing both the number of vehicle accidents as well as slip-and-fall accidents. Unfortunately, salt does not just disappear when all the snow and ice melt; it is washed into our lakes, rivers, and streams and has an almost immediate effect on water quality. As a homeowner, consider reducing salt use by applying brine, not rock salt, before a snow storm and shoveling frequently to keep snow from accumulating. This is the best way to save your back, your knees, and the Rouge River!
Brine, a mixture of salt and water, has become a great alternative to traditional rock salt. The transition to using brine for a homeowner has minimal costs. The brine can be pre-mixed in large quantities and stored in your basement or garage. By spraying brine, you have more control over the same area twice and it will not bounce off the driveway the way rock salt can. Brine starts working much faster than rock salt due to the increased contact area with the snow. The best method is to apply the brine before a snow storm begins. The City of Farmington attempts to brine roadways when the weather conditions are conducive to its effectiveness.
For the recipe on how to make brine for your driveway and sidewalks, please click here.
Salt (sodium chloride) is popularly used to clear snow and ice from roads, sidewalks, parking lots, and driveways by lowering the freezing point preventing snow and ice buildup to keep drivers and pedestrians safe. Because salt is a mineral found within Earth's crust and in the oceans, it makes sense that it is not harmful to the natural environment; however, high concentrations can be harmful. Runoff from treated surfaces go into the storm drains, which flow directly into the lakes, rivers, and streams.
- Let’s all Dispose Of Fats, Oils & Grease (FOG) Properly
Never pour kitchen fats, oils and grease (FOG) down your sink drain. Pouring or washing FOG down your kitchen drain can build up and block pipes which is costly to you and the Rouge River. FOG enters sewer pipes through restaurant, residential and commercial sink drains. Once in the sewer, FOG sticks to the inside of the pipe, thickens, and can eventually block the entire pipe.
Blockages in sewer pipes can send sewage backwards and up through floor drains and toilets into homes or businesses, and/or out of manholes
into streets and rivers. These sewage overflows pollute our homes, businesses and our environment. Cleanup costs can be expensive, and the cost can be much higher if your home has a septic system.
Preventing sewer backups from FOG blockages saves residents and business owners money and protects the water quality of the Rouge River. Residents and business owners can help control the problem by properly disposing of fats, oils and grease.
Practice and share these healthy habits with your family, friends, and neighbors:
- DO pour or scrape greasy or oily food waste into a container or jar and allow grease to cool or solidify in the container before throwing in the trash.
- DO use a paper towel or a scraper to remove residual grease from dishes and pans prior to washing.
- DO mix liquid vegetable oil with an absorbent material such as cat litter or coffee grounds in a sealable container before throwing it in the trash.
- Do keep drains clean by pouring 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup vinegar, wait 10 to 15 minutes and then rinse with hot water.
- DO NOT pour fats, oils or grease down drains or garbage disposals.
- DO NOT use hot water to rinse grease off cookware, utensils, dishes, or surfaces.
- DO NOT put ‘disposable’ wipes down a drain or toilet - they do not dissolve and will cause clogs.
FOG buildup in sewer pipes requires your local public works staff to go to the site and remove the blockage. Cleaning FOG buildup from sewers increases maintenance costs for you and everyone else in your community. Keep our environment clean and avoid unnecessary maintenance costs by keeping fats, oils and grease out of our sewers. For more healthy habits you can practice at home or work to protect water quality in the Rouge River, visit www.allianceofrougecommunities.com/watershed.html
Keep your pipes clean from fats, oils, & grease.
When It Comes to Household Chemicals – Change Is A Good Thing!
You know that age-old phrase - “change is a good thing!” When it comes to household chemicals, changing your habits in your home, yard, and with your vehicles can help protect water quality in the Rouge River watershed. Everyone who lives in Michigan lives in a watershed! When rain and snow/ice melt travel across the land (watershed) and into storm drains, it is called stormwater or runoff. As this runoff travels, it picks up trash, animal waste, chemicals, sediment, and dissolved substances along the way until it empties into streams, rivers, and lakes. These bodies of water impacted by runoff provide recreational opportunities, habitat for wildlife, and even drinking water for communities.
Change is a good thing! Reduce the amount of chemicals you use by finding a natural alternative to your household cleaners like peroxide, olive oil or lemon juice. When washing your vehicles use your local car wash which sends the wash water to the sewer system to be treated or just use water, a coarse cloth and elbow grease! In your yard seek alternatives to fertilizers like mulching your grass which acts as a natural fertilizer. In addition to finding chemical alternatives, change how you use chemicals. This can help improve water quality by ensuring you are applying them as directed, in the proper amount, and storing them safely to reduce risk of leaks. Finally, and maybe most importantly, dispose of chemicals through a take-back program or at a Household Hazardous Waste collection event. Never dump fertilizers/pesticides, vehicle fluids, excess windshield washer fluid or other chemicals down a storm drain or onto the ground. By incorporating these healthy habits, you are protecting not only the health of our watershed but also ourselves and everything downstream. For more healthy habits related to household chemicals and other ways you can project water quality in the Rouge River visit www.allianceofrougecommunities.com/watershed.html
This is also a helpful brochure with more information
Business Owners – protect water quality inside, outside & under your building!
Businesses have a direct effect on the water quality in the Rouge River watershed. When rain and snow/ice
melt travel across the land (watershed) and into storm drains, it is called stormwater or runoff. Runoff picks up trash, animal waste, chemicals, sediments and dissolved substances until it discharges into the nearest waterbody. Even if your business is not next to the river, your actions still have an impact on the Rouge River watershed. These bodies of water impacted by runoff provide recreational opportunities, habitat for wildlife, and may even provide drinking water for communities.
The way you use, dispose and store chemicals, batteries, wastes and other materials inside your building can influence water quality in the Rouge River. Make sure your business stores chemicals in a designated area which includes secondary containment in case the original containers leak. Also consider implementing a recycling station for plastic, paper/cardboard, glass, aluminum and batteries to protect the environment.
How you maintain and clean your parking lots, dumpsters and storage areas outside your building play an important role in the health of the Rouge River. Always keep dumpster areas clean and lids closed so items don’t blow away. Inspect containers and waste disposal areas regularly for leaks and replace or repair them immediately if found. To project water quality it is important to clean up leaks or spills outside immediately with dry absorbent and dispose of properly; never wash it down the storm drain.
The lawn surrounding your business and how you maintain it also plays an important role in water quality. Limit the use of herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers and never apply them close to any watercourse. Always follow a product’s label for proper use and application. Businesses should also consider planting rain gardens around buildings. Their deep roots slow runoff and provide filtration before stormwater enters the river.
Even things under your building that you can’t see, like pipes that were changed with renovations or expansion, can affect the water quality in the Rouge River. Never reroute sanitary drains on your property without verifying their connection to a sanitary sewer system. If a sewer pipe is mis-connected to a storm drain system, this is an illicit connection and is harmful to water quality. If you are contacted about E. coli levels close to your business by city or county authorities, work with them to test your sanitary connections and if something is found, correct it.
Adopting Best Management Practices (BMPs) and training your employees to use them inside, outside and under your building will have a positive impact on your profits, customers, employees, wildlife and their habitat, and even the communities downstream! To learn more BMPs you can adopt in your business to protect water quality in the Rouge River visit www.allianceofrougecommunities.com/business.html.
This is also a helpful brochure with more information
Sites of interest on how to protect all waterways:
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG)
Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner
Oakland County MSU Extension
Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA)
The Friends of the Rouge 2023 Stonefly Search Report is now availabile. Please click here for the full report.
The Friends of the Rouge 2023 Fall Bug Hunt Report is now available. Please click here for the full report.
The results of Alliance of Rouge Communities (ARC) 2017 Water Quality Changed in the Rouge River Survey are now available. Please click here to read.