Home and Yard Pollutants

lawn clippings photoWater pollution can come from a variety of sources. Soil, grass clippings, fertilizer, pesticides, paint thinners, and motor oil can pollute water if picked up by stormwater runoff. See Table 1 for common types and sources of pollution from homes and yards. 

Pollutants can harm water resources:

  • Soil makes water cloudy and destroys habitat for fish and aquatic plants.
  • Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen promote the growth of algae, which crowds out other aquatic life, or leads to growth of toxic blue-green algae.
  • Things like antifreeze, oil, fertilizers, pesticides, and metals threaten the health of fish and other aquatic life.
  • Bacteria and disease-causing organisms from pet and animal waste make lakes, ponds and streams unsafe for wading and swimming.
  • Polluted runoff flowing down a poorly designed well or an unused well which has not been properly decommissioned can contaminate a drinking water supply.

Runoff from rainfall and snowmelt is unavoidable. But we can reduce the amount of runoff by using sustainable landscape methods which capture and use runoff; things such as downspout disconnection, rain gardens, and rain barrels. We can also help keep water clean by doing simple housekeeping to prevent runoff from picking up things that cause pollution. 

Key Tips for Reducing Pollutants:

  • Keep fertilizer, pesticides, soil, mulch, and yard waste (grass clippings, tree leaves, twigs) off paved surfaces. Sweep them onto the lawn or use yard waste in compost. Do not sweep or hose them into the street. Read and follow label directions. 
  • Store and dispose of household hazardous waste (pesticides, paints, paint thinners, cleaning products, oil, anti-freeze, etc.) according to label directions and out of the way of storm or flood waters. Do not dump them into the sink or toilet, street gutter or ditch, storm drain, or onto the ground. Clean up spills immediately.
  • Recycle and reduce yard waste. Leave grass clippings on lawns or compost them. Chip woody waste into mulch.
  • Clean roof gutters and street curbs of tree leaves, grass clippings, sediment, litter, and other debris.
  • Pick up litter and recycle it or put it in the trash.
  • Fix car leaks. Clean oil and fluid spills from paved surfaces.
  • Scoop pet feces and securely bag and place in the trash for disposal.
  • Wash cars at a commercial carwash and not in the driveway or street.
  • Maintain plant cover on slopes to stabilize the soil. Seed bare areas in lawns and mulch bare garden soil.
  • Prevent soil erosion during renovation and landscaping by using mulch or a cover crop.
  • Do not stockpile soil, mulch, or other bulk materials on paved surfaces during lawn and landscape projects.

For in-depth information on reducing pollutants from residential properties, see Extension Circular 707, Stormwater Management on Residential Lots (PDF 8 pages, 3.33 MB)

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Information presented within the lawn and landscape section of this Water Web site has been reviewed by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Stormwater and Greenspace Team. Members include Erin Bauer, Sarah Browning, Kathleen Cue, John Fech, Kelly Feehan, Thomas Franti, Bobbi Holm, Elizabeth Killinger, Katie Pekarek, Steve Rodie, Jim Schild, Dave Shelton.

Pesticides Information

EPA's After the Storm

EPA's Managing Nonpoint Source Pollution From Households

UNL Extension Nebguide: Garden Compost
  PDF version (506 KB)

Extension Circular 707, Stormwater Management on Residential Lots (PDF 8 pages, 3.33 MB)

PDF format requires free Acrobat Reader.

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