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50 Things You Can Do
There are plenty of things we can do to help our local waters, and many of them are inexpensive, fun or educational.
1. Get involved. Join a local watershed group, sign a petition, attend a meeting, volunteer.
2. Get educated. Read up on water quality issues. Frequent the Web sites of environmental advocacy groups and government agencies. Invite an expert speaker to your community meeting.
3. Bend a politician's ear. Make sure they know the environment is important. To learn about the current issues before state lawmakers, call your Riverkeeper at 336-722-4949 and attend Clean Water Lobby Day, where you will join hundreds of other concerned NC citizens and meet with our elected officials to advocate for clean water. (This is a great project for home school groups!)
4. Calculate your nitrogen footprint. Excess nitrogen fuels algae growth which leads to fish kills. Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a neat online calculator that lets you learn how much nitrogen your family produces.
5. Plant a tree. They slow down rainwater, prevent runoff and absorb carbon dioxide that causes global warming. They also help keep your home cool in the summer and add to your property value. Visit your local nursery and ask about native trees.
6. Skip the fertilizer. Improper fertilizer use sends nitrogen and phosphorus running into streams and ultimately the river. Residential homeowners are among the greatest sources of nutrients from fertilizer.
7. Hold your water. Install a rain barrel to collect water from your downspouts, reducing harmful runoff and saving water. Use the water to irrigate your flowers or vegetables. Or plant a rain garden to soak up water. If you need help, consult a landscape architect or NC State University.
8. Switch to low-phosphorus dishwasher soap. This will be the law of the land in a few years, but you can buy low-phosphorus detergent now in most grocery stores. Less phosphorus in the water means less has to be treated by sewage plants.
9. Pick up a local nature book or a book about clean water issues. Ask a librarian for ideas or check out the "local interest" section of bookstores.
10. Fight global warming. Climate change may hurt our local wildlife and wetlands and wreck our shorelines. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs and turn off unneeded electronics. Figure out your "carbon footprint" at nature.org.
11. Meet your local Riverkeeper. Many local watershed groups hire Riverkeepers and Coastkeepers to be full-time advocates and patrol the rivers for environmental scofflaws. Visit www.waterkeeper.org.
12. Eat locally - maybe as local as your own yard. Food that's grown locally travels less, which means less nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide pollution. Try growing some of your own vegetables, visit your local farm or farmer's market or join a community-supported agriculture cooperative.
13. Eat organically. Organic farmers don't use chemical fertilizers, which can harm the river. They also eschew herbicides and pesticides. Patronize restaurants that serve local, organic food.
14. Eat local seafood.
15. Share the river with a child. Tell them what the river was like when you were a kid and what promise it holds. Chaperone a field trip, take a kid fishing, set a positive example.
16. Recycle. Although recycling has less of a direct effect on the river, anything that reduces waste and reduces the exploitation of natural resources is good for the environment.
17. Drive a car with low nitrogen emissions. Compare pollution among different models here.
18. Don't wash your car in the driveway. Move it into the grass so that soap, chemicals and excess water soak into the ground rather than going straight into storm drain and the bay. Or take it to a car wash that recycles its water.
19. Conserve water. This puts less pressure on sewage plants. Take shorter showers, run the dishwasher and clothes washer only when full, install a low-flow shower head, don't water the lawn, use rain barrels.
20. Landscape with native plants. These plants are accustomed to our climate and require little or no watering, fertilizers or pesticides. Learn more from the North Carolina Native Plant Society or ask for help at your local nursery.
21. Maintain your septic system.
22. Hold polluters accountable. Reporting a possible environmental violation is the first step to getting it fixed and making polluters pay. Figuring out the right agency can be tricky, but here are some numbers to get you started.
- Yadkin Riverkeeper 336-722-4949
- Sedimentation Pollution 866-STOP MUD
- Swat a Litterbug 877-DOT 4 YOU
23. Be an eco-friendly boater. Don't dump your waste overboard, get it pumped out! Don't toss fishing line in the water. Use a certified "clean marina" if you can.
24. Encourage your workplace or school to be river friendly. Some ideas: plant trees, install rain gardens or rain barrels, save energy, serve local food at meetings, give employees time off to volunteer.
25. Become an oyster gardener. Waterfront property owners and waterfront community groups can raise oysters over the winter and have them planted in sanctuaries in the spring. Visit Shellfish Gardeners of North Carolina for more info.
26. Preserve or restore a riparian buffer (a strip of natural vegetation along stream and river banks that reduce pollution). Retain existing native plants and plant native trees, shrubs and grasses along banks and avoid pesticide or fertilizer application in the buffer.
27. Monitor a stream. The river may not be in your backyard, but everyone lives near a stream.
28. Skip the female crabs. Female crabs can produce millions of eggs each and are vital to the health of the population.
29. Fish responsibly. Only keep what you plan to eat. Use barbless/circle hooks during catch-and-release. Properly dispose your fishing line - don't leave it in the water or in places where birds might pick it up and put it into their nests.
30. Don't empty your aquarium into natural bodies of water.
31. Don't dump oil and chemicals down the storm drains. Those drains eventually lead to the river and the water in them does not get treated. Onslow County has regular hazardous waste collections.
32. Go birding. You can learn about ospreys, bald eagles, geese, swans and other birds that depend on the rivers and estuaries. Many parks and environmental centers have beginner birding programs. Or check out the Carolina Bird Club.
33. Fight invasive species on your property. You might have phragmites, kudzu or other nonnative invaders. Learn more from the North Carolina Botanical Gardens.
34. Fix your shoreline. If your bulkhead or riprap is failing, consider a soft, "living shoreline" that softens waves and attracts wildlife. Learn more at the Center for Coastal Resources Management.
35. Put your money where your mouth is. Like the ideas of an environmental group? Send them a check. Or consider buying a North Carolina license plate that helps support Coastal Federation or Ducks Unlimited.
36. Tune in to nature TV. "Carolina Outdoor Journal" and “Exploring North Carolina” on North Carolina Public Television explore the state's natural resources.
37. Compost instead of using the garbage disposal. Compost can help your garden and not using the disposal will relieve pressure on sewage treatment plants. Your local master gardeners can help with composting information.
38. Pick up your dog's waste. It's gross, but important. Pet waste contains bacteria and nitrogen that washes into creeks and harms swimmers and promotes algae growth.
39. Support businesses that help the river. Ask about their environmental practices.
40. Speak your mind. Start a blog, write a letter to the editor, speak up at a community meeting, testify at a government hearing.
41. Preserve undeveloped land. Property owners can put a conservation easement on their land that limits development on the parcel forever. There are tax benefits, too. A land trust can help you sort through the details.
42. Teach your kids about clean water. There are a multitude of web sites for kids that deal with water pollution. EPA has a Coastal North Carolina Activity Book that you can download and print.
43. Look out for litter. Those plastic bags, papers and soda cans can end up in a stream if someone doesn't pick them up.
44. Learn about aquatic weeds and their control.
45. Visit a museum. The Natural Science Center in Greensboro as well as Sci Works in Winston Salem has information about native plants and animals and how you can help.
46. Go on a river cleanup. Yadkin Riverkeeper has two every year.
47. Take a trip. There is amazing beauty and history throughout our watershed.
48. Visit a park. Several waterfront parks offer beautiful views of our waterways.
49. Spread the word. Share what you know about the water. Encourage others to adopt river-friendly practices.
50. Last but not least: Enjoy the water! Go fishing, paddle down a creek, go for a sail, look for birds, take a stroll on the beach, splurge for a sunset dinner at a waterfront restaurant.
This list was adapted from the White Oak New Riverkeeper.
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