Keep our water clean.
Do you dump the grease from your skillet into the drain? Do you nuke your yard with pesticides and chemicals and then watch as the run-off from your irrigation system slips silently into the storm drains? These bad habits must be corrected if we as Arkansans are to protect our state's bountiful water supply and ensure that it remains unpolluted.
It's Not a Sewer
"If I were to pick one thing that people need to know about water it's this: Those drains in the curb are not sanitary sewers; they are storm drains," said Johnnie Chamberlin, assistant director of conservation for Audubon Arkansas. Sewer lines run from homes and buildings to a sewage treatment plant, where the polluted water is treated, cleaned and then released. Storm drains, on the other hand, carry water, trash, oils and chemicals from roads and parking lots directly into creeks without filtering or treating the mixture.
According to Chamberlin, the Fourche Creek Watershed drains and filters more than 90 percent of the runoff from Little Rock, making it arguably the most important urban watershed in the state of Arkansas. The watershed stretches across the length of the city of Little Rock and includes several large, isolated, urban wetlands. The creek system empties into the Arkansas River just south of downtown Little Rock and immediately below the city's wastewater treatment facility.
During a typical storm, Fourche Creek's wetlands can store up to 1 billion gallons of water. The creek, watershed and wetland areas provide water purification, efficient containment and storage of floodwaters, urban noise reduction, air and water pollution control, and wildlife habitat within the city.
However, this vital area has endured decades of abuse. "There are huge deposits of trash along Fourche Creek and in our parks," Chamberlin noted. "And this trash and other types of pollution harms fish and other aquatic wildlife. This damage can and will travel up the food chain, eventually affecting the birds and humans eating those fish."
Vacationing in the Dead Zone
Our water-related habits don't just affect the creeks, rivers and areas in central Arkansas--they have a direct impact on the waters and beaches of the Gulf Coast. Our pollution here is contributing to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, a large region of water that is very low in dissolved oxygen and therefore can't support life. Here's how: The city of Little Rock drains into Fourche Creek; Fourche Creek drains into the Arkansas River. Streams and rivers, including the Arkansas River, draining 40 percent of the United States empty into the Mississippi River, which then flows into the Gulf of Mexico. This fresh water, heavy with sediment and nutrients, then "smothers" the salt water of the Gulf, preventing oxygen and sunlight from reaching the low-lying plant and aquatic life.
Above the water, this area doesn't look different from the surrounding waters. But along the bottom, there's practically no oxygen. Bottom-dwellers--snails, worms, starfish, and crabs--can't escape the dead zone's oxygen-poor water, so they die. Fish and shrimp swim out of the area, which could cause shrimp supply to drop and seafood prices to rise. Think about the implications. Do you really want to eat burgers and fries on your next beach trip?
What you can do
According to Audubon Arkansas and Little Rock Wastewater Utility (LRWU), consumers can do simple things to prevent water pollution.
Limit pesticide and fertilizer use More often than not, consumers overfertilize, whether on farms, golf courses or our own lawns. This harms the environment and wastes money. Find out how much fertilizer you really need and try not to use it near the edges of your property, where it is likely to run off into roads or streams most rapidly. Using native plants and grasses will decrease your need to use any fertilizer.
Advocate for the protection and creation of wetlands--Wetlands along rivers and creeks are good at removing nutrients from water, but we are destroying them at an alarming rate. Simply leaving a 50-foot (or larger for bigger rivers) vegetated buffer along all our streams, rivers and drainage ditches would do a lot to improve water quality and shrink the dead zone.
Can the grease--While your kitchen sink does drain to a sewage treatment plant, the grease from your morning breakfast poses a large environmental problem when not disposed of in the proper manner. In fact, sewage stoppage due to grease buildup accounts for almost 80 percent of all dry weather drain overflows. Little Rock Wastewater's "Can the Grease" campaign provides cans and liners for household use. Simply place the liner in the can and pour your grease into the liner. Once the liner is full, seal it and dispose of it in your garbage can. To request a can and liners, call LRWU at 372-5161.
Use commercial car washes--Washing your car, truck, RV or boat in your driveway is harmful to the water supply, as the chemicals and suds wash right down the gutter and into the storm drains. Use commercial car washes instead, as their drains connect to actual wastewater sewers for treatment.
Look out for storm drains--Again, pay attention to what you rinse down your driveway and into the road. In 2008, Audubon Arkansas will partner with the Central Arkansas Storm Drain Marking Project to place markers on storm drains in the city of Little Rock. The messages, printed in both English and Spanish, will read "Don't Pollute, Drains Directly to Fourche Creek" and "Don't Pollute, Drains Directly to Arkansas River."
"We hope to place them all over the city where they will be seen by a large number of people," Chamberlin said. "Also, we will use lots of volunteers to help place them, which will serve to educate more people and give them a stake in keeping our city's creeks clean." If you are interested in this project, you can contact Chamberlin at 244-2229.