Water Quality Protection Around Your Home

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, unlike pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, comes from many diffuse sources. NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.
Once polluted runoff enters our water resources, it can be very difficult and expensive to clean up. Each of us can take actions that reduce these pollutants and prevent them from entering water resources. Here are some specific steps you can take to reduce NPS pollution around your home.


Yard and garden

  • Choose the right plant for the right spot. Sustainable and native plants that tolerate the given site conditions specific to your yard reduce the need for intensive inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation water.
  • Recycle your yard waste. Grass clippings, leaves, and plant prunings are all valuable sources of mulch or ingredients for compost. Yard waste is a pollutant when washed directly into storm drains and surface waters.
  • Use fertilizers and pesticides responsibly. Base all fertilizer applications on soil test recommendations and consider using organic sources of fertilizer.
  • Correctly identify pests and treat with non-chemical options where possible. Avoid using pesticides as a preventive measure.
  • Apply fertilizers with care. Measure the area to be treated or fertilized, calibrate your spreader, and avoid applying or handling fertilizers or chemicals on paved surfaces or near drinking water wells, storm drains, and surface waters.

Use a rain barrel to reduce runoff and collect water.
  • Water your yard and garden wisely. Use a rain gauge to measure weekly rainfall (about 1 inch of water needed per week in the summer) and make up the difference with irrigation. Water during early morning hours. One long, slow watering each week is best. Be sure inground sprinkler systems have a manual control option. Use low-flow soaker hoses and drip irrigation for vegetable gardens and beds.
  • Reduce or minimize paved surface areas. Decrease runoff from your yard and increase groundwater recharge by reducing paved surface areas around your yard. Also, direct roof runoff and other concentrated runoff to areas that can allow it to settle and soak into the ground. Options include rain gardens, border beds of shrubs and ground covers, and crushed stone beds.
  • Reduce soil erosion. Keep your yard and garden planted and mulched. Protect the soil by maintaining perennial vegetative cover, winter cover crops, mulch, or crushed stone in heavy traffic areas.
  • Pick up after your pets. Pick up solid waste and properly dispose of it in the trash, flush it down the toilet, or use proper burial methods. Do not locate dog runs or yards near drinking water wells, storm drains, or surface waters. Do not encourage resident waterfowl.

Proper use, storage, and disposal of household hazardous products

  • Carefully follow the product label directions for use and storage.
  • Keep products in their original, labeled containers and in cool, dry, well-ventilated areas that are out of reach of children and animals.
  • Buy only what you need. Give surplus products to friends, neighbors, or groups who can use them.
  • Look for nontoxic alternatives, such as latex, water-based paints.
  • Do not pour paints, used oil, cleaning solvents, polishes, pool chemicals, insecticides, and other household chemicals down the drain, in the yard, or on the street.
  • Dispose of household hazardous waste properly, and recycle wastes where possible.

Septic system maintenance

  • Have your septic system inspected annually and pumped as needed.
  • Avoid using chemical and other septic system additives.
  • Place only toilet paper in the toilet.
  • Conserve household water, reducing the amount of wastewater entering the septic system.
  • Spread out major water-using chores evenly during the day and week.
  • Don’t pour hazardous household products down the drain.
  • Compost your kitchen waste rather than use a garbage disposal.

Vehicle maintenance

  • Driving less reduces the amount of pollution your automobile generates. Consider carpooling or public transportation where possible, and walk or ride a bicycle when traveling short distances.
  • Recycle used motor oil. Do not pour waste oil on the ground or down storm drains. Used motor oil can often be accepted and recycled at local sanitation departments or service stations.
  • Keep up with car maintenance to reduce leaking of oil, antifreeze, and other hazardous fluids.
  • Hand wash your car on the lawn. Do not leave the hose running while washing the car. If you are unable to keep car wash runoff from leaving the driveway or yard, consider taking your car to a commercial car wash facility.


Adapted from What You Can Do About Nonpoint Source Pollution, Rhode Island Department of Health and the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, Department of Natural Resources Science Factsheet. 2004.

Adapted from Polluted Runoff (Nonpoint Source Pollution), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency