The rainy season brings vital freshwater to our lakes, creeks, and streams, and it’s also the time for migrating winter birds who stop over in the Bay. Unfortunately, the rainy season also brings lots of pollution to San Francisco Bay, as contaminants get washed into local waterways, and heavy showers overwhelm leaky sewer pipes, causing sewage spills into the Bay and its tributaries.
We can all help protect the Bay from pollution during the rainy winter months. Here are tips for things you can do from your home and yard to make the Bay safer and cleaner this rainy season:
Don't pour fats, oils, or grease down the drain. Cooking rich holiday foods like turkey and gravy can create fats, oil, and grease that get washed down the drain during cleanup of pots, pans and fryers. The fats and greasy scraps harden and clump together, especially in cold weather. Fats, oil, and grease stick to the inside of sewer pipes, and build up over time, causing clogs in home or street sewer lines. Sewage then backs up in homes, yards and even neighborhood streets and ends up in local creeks and the Bay—polluting the environment and threatening public health.
Avoid washing the following things down the drain: cooking oil, meat fat, lard, shortening, butter, dairy products, margarine, fatty food scraps, sauces, gravy, and salad dressing. Instead, wipe oily dishes, pots, and pans with a paper towel or put excess grease in a can, and put it in the trash. Take large amounts of cooking oil – like used oil from a fryer – to a grease recycling site.
When it’s raining, try to minimize water use. During heavy rain, sewer pipes are often flooded by rainwater, increasing the chance of sewage spills. Wait to wash clothes or run the dishwasher until the rain stops, to lessen the burden on the sewer system. Reduce water use all year-round by installing low-flow toilets and shower heads, and turn off the water when you shave or brush your teeth.
Don't use pesticides in your yard or garden. Rain will wash these chemicals off your lawn or garden, and ultimately into the Bay. Urban pesticide use is a major source of Bay pollution that kills fish, aquatic plants, and insects. Many weeds and pests are better repelled by physical removal or by beneficial plants and insects that naturally control pest populations.
Reuse rainwater. Reduce both your water consumption and storm water pollution to the Bay by capturing rainwater in barrels or cisterns for later reuse in your garden or yard. Learn more about reusing rainwater.
Plant a rain garden. Direct the rainwater from your roof, driveway, and walkways to a garden of native, drought-resistant plants. A rain garden absorbs rainwater and breaks down pollutants naturally, keeping rainwater from flowing off your property and picking up pollutants on the way to the Bay. Learn more about planting a rain garden.
Photo by Don McCullough (Flickr/CC)