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How we manage and use land can directly affect the condition of the soil and water quality in Tennessee.  Choices we make can help protect soil and water quality.  For example, did you know that storm drains are often connected to a stream or river?  The trash littering our roadsides may end up being carried down storm drains to a favorite river, used for canoeing, fishing, or other outdoor activity.  Used motor oil should be recycled and other household hazardous wastes should be disposed in a responsible manner to avoid contaminating land, groundwater, or surface waters.

Minimizing the use of chemical fertilizers and garden pesticides can also help protect soil and water quality.  Chemicals deplete nutrients in soil over the long-term, while composting and mulching enhance soil health.  Run-off from yards, gardens, and agricultural fields can carry excess nutrients and poisons that change the natural condition of streams and rivers.  Animal wastes should be prevented from entering streams to avoid bacterial and nutrient contamination.  These are examples of water pollution caused by nonpoint sources (NPS) because they are activities that may take place on the land in many areas of a watershed and are largely unregulated by law.   According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NPS pollution is the number one cause of water pollution nationwide.  It comes from many different sources, including:

  • Runoff from roads, which carries oil, gasoline and other pollutants
  • Sediment from construction sites
  • Lawn fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides
  • Animal waste
  • Motor oil dumped into storm drains
  • Improperly disposed yard waste

As an area is developed, stormwater runoff increases.   Land once covered by vegetation is cleared as roads, shops, and houses are built.   Rainwater previously absorbed by the land and plants now falls onto these impervious surfaces, picking up pollutants along the way.  It then flows to the nearest storm drain, carrying these pollutants into the nearest stream or river.  As stormwater runoff increases, so does the potential for nonpoint source pollution.

Tree-covered Look Out Mountain near Chattanooga is just one land area threatened by acid rain in Tennessee.

Land-clearing exposes soil to possible erosion during storm events.  Keeping soil from washing into streams and rivers prevents the most common cause of NPS water pollution -- sedimentation.  Sediments clog the gills of fish and aquatic wildlife preventing them from getting oxygen and causing suffocation.  It is estimated that two billion tons of soil erodes into our nation's waterways each year.  To minimize our contribution to that awesome figure, we should use erosion control measures and apply seed and mulch to cover bare soil as soon as possible following a disturbance.

There are resources available through the Tennessee Department of Agriculture's Nonpoint Source Program to prevent or correct problems associated with NPS water pollution.

Adopting a stream, conducting stream clean-ups, participating in watershed management activities, and restoring stream banks to their natural condition through tree-planting and bank stabilization are additional ways that citizens can help protect water quality.

For more information about the Tennessee Pollution Prevention Partnership, please contact Karen Grubbs at 615-532-0463 or 1-800-734-3619 or by email at [email protected].