Yard Challenge

For starters, take a look around your home. Take notes about things where the water drains off from the roof, where the storm drains are on your street, whether water runs directly from your yard into a stream.

How much of your yard is lawn, and where are any trees or gardens? When did you fertilize your lawn, and did you apply any pesticides or herbicides? Did you do this before it rained, or during a dry spell? Did you use mulch, manure, or other things to improve the soil without using chemicals?  Have you tested the soil, and do you use the results of the soil test to determine how much you have to fertilize your lawn? Do you have any pests that cause problems?
How often do you water your yard? Do you have problems with erosion or soil loss? Make notes of all these activities and use this information to develop your plan.

The next step is to ask how all of this affects the streams near your yard or the run-off that leaves your yard and goes down a storm drain to the river. For example, do you use any insecticides or herbicides that might pollute the water? Do you use fertilizer that can add nutrients to run-off? These extra nutrients and chemicals are a major problem in Kansas, and cause algae blooms that can pollute drinking water and kill fish. Click here for nutrient lesson

While lawns definitely absorb more water than cement or asphalt, lawns do not absorb as much rain as plants that have deep roots. To see how fertilizer can be washed off of a lawn into stormwater run-off click here.

Make a diagram or map of your yard. Make sure you include any ponds, streams, or other water bodies that might be impacted by your your activities, and indicate where the run-off that leaves your land goes during a storm (including storm drains). Do you see any erosion that would indicate excessive run-off?

Once you have described how you are currently managing your yard, you can identify potential problems that you would like to improve. This will be the basis for picking one problem to remedy in your project. You should make sure that the problem that you pick is something that is within your control to change, and that it is the right size for you to manage.

The two most important things you can do to help the river are to (1) reduce the amount of water that is running off your lawn, and (2) reduce the amount of nutrients, bacteria, silt, and chemicals in the water that does run-off your yard.

You can reduce run-off by minimizing
the amount of water that you apply, which has the added benefit of reducing the amount of water that is withdrawn from groundwater or the river. Paying special attention to how you are watering (for example, using drip irrigation or a soaking hose, watering early in the morning) and the ability of your soil to absorb and hold water (using mulch, improving your soil with humus) will help you grow healthy plants with less water.

You can also reduce run-off by improving on-site water retention using things like buffer strips, rain gardens, wetlands, terraces and ponds. Water that is absorbed into the soil is used by soil organisms and plants, which remove nutrients and many chemicals, making the water less polluted by the time it goes into groundwater or streams.

Here are a few suggestions about what you can do to decrease run-off from your home, yard and driveway:

  • Stop mowing within 10 to 25 feet from the edge of a stream – leave a buffer to filter and absorb water running off from your yard.
  • Bushes and trees along a stream bank are the best way to prevent erosion and they will absorb and filter water running off your yard.
  • Reduce your use of yard chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. Never apply yard chemicals before a rainstorm.
  • Use native plants – they require less water, fertilizers and pesticides so there will be less water to run-off and less pollution in the run-off.
  • Disconnect downspouts from your house so that they don't go straight to a storm drain; reconnect them to a rain barrel and collect as much water as possible. The water can be used for your garden.
  • Plant a rain garden to absorb and clean the run-off from your lawn.
  • Reduce the amount of concrete, asphalt, and other surfaces that don't absorb water and replace them with gravel, mulch, and other permeable surfaces that can absorb water.
  • Don’t pour oil (or anything) down storm drains because the pollution will go straight to the river. And don’t leave oil on your driveway or street, it will wash off during a storm and pollute the river.
  • Clean up after your pets-- animal waste is a source of nutrient and bacterial pollution in run-off.
  • Sweep rather than hosing off your driveway, patios or decks to reduce the amount of water going into storm drains.
  • Take your car to a commercial car wash- the water will be cleaned and recycled after it goes down the drain rather than going untreated down a storm drain on your street.

The key principles are: 

  • Test your soil and inspect for pests so that you don't use any more fertilizer or chemicals than you have to.
  • Try to have as much of the run-off as possible filter down into the soil rather than running off into streams.
  • Improve your soil and keep your plants healthy, that way you won't need as much water or as many chemicals.

Click Here for additional resources to help you with your project