Reduce Water Pollution

Volunteers help clean up the creek
Deer Creek cleanup near Litzsinger Road Ecology Center. © All Rights Reserved.

Take action and be a responsible neighbor. Following these tips will help you reduce your impact on your watershed by minimizing contaminants and curbing erosion.

Lawn and Yard Care

Yard Waste

Wondering what you can do in your yard to help keep our creeks clean?

  • Compost your leaves, brush, grass clippings, and other yard waste. It’s easy, inexpensive and a natural way to dispose of organic waste. Compost can be used as fertilizer around the yard, which reduces the need for chemical fertilizers that can contaminate storm water runoff draining into creeks and rivers.
  • Locate compost bin(s) away from areas prone to flooding or other areas where rainwater runoff would cause leaching of nutrients out of the compost into nearby storm drains or waterways.
  • Never dispose of yard waste in a nearby creek or allow yard waste to be washed down or put into the storm drains.
  • Do not sweep or blow grass clippings and leaves along the street or into a storm drain.
  • Do not dump grass or yard waste onto a creek bank or area where it will be washed into creeks and rivers.
  • Control soil on your property by planting native trees and ground cover to stabilize erosion-prone areas.
  • Use any community resources offered by your municipality or county for further assistance.
  • Check with your municipality to get information about curbside yard waste pick-up.
  • Mow grass higher and leave grass clippings on the lawn to retain moisture and provide nutrients to the soil as they decompose. When you mow, set the blades to cut the grass two or three inches high. Most grasses are healthiest at this height, and this also helps control weeds. Also, taller grass along storm water drainage areas helps filter runoff and stabilize soil better with deeper roots.
  • Never allow pesticides, fertilizers, or any other materials to be washed down or put into storm drains.
  • Never allow roof gutters to drain directly to the street or storm drains. Instead, allow the water to flow over your lawn.
  • Reduce the amount of paved area and increase the vegetated areas on your property where stormwater can soak into the soil.
  • Consider more natural and sustainable ways of maintaining your lawn.
  • Learn more at the University of Missouri Extension site Healthy Yards for Clear Streams.
  • See examples of yard waste problems and solutions on the City of St. Peters's website. What you choose to do can be the difference between water flowing—and disaster.

Lawn Care Tips for Fall

Wondering what to do with all those fallen leaves? Here are a couple of options:

  • Just leave them in place where they can breakdown naturally and recycle nutrients back into the ground. Unlike synthetic fertilizers which can run off your lawn and contaminate streams, leaves and other organic matter build better soil structure and increase the soil’s ability to hold moisture in addition to supplying the nutrients that plants need.
  • If you want to speed up the decomposition process of the leaves, use your mower to “mulch in place” and chop the leaves into finer particles. Then, leave the desired amount of leaf particles on your lawn and move any excess leaf material into your perennial flower beds or compost to help replace the need for mulch and synthetic fertilizers in the spring.
Leaf litter
Leaf litter.

Decaying leaves are also inviting to a host of beneficial organisms, creating a healthy soil full of life. Among these organisms are earthworms. Native earthworms improve the water holding capacity of the soil by shredding and mixing organic material into the soil enhancing its structure. Earthworms also increase infiltration and the soils ability to absorb rainfall, by creating burrows deep into the ground. Increasing soil absorption alone helps reduce runoff and pollutant transport to streams.

The fall is a great time to get your soil tested allowing you to know what your lawn and garden needs are for spring. Soil testing is the only way to find out exactly what nutrients your soil needs allowing you to appropriately apply fertilizers. Applying only the type and amount of fertilizer needed for your lawn leads to cost savings for the homeowner, as well as improves the quality of our water resources. For more information on getting your soil tested and for a list of locations to drop off your samples, visit

Salt Alternatives and Other De-icing Tips

Since the 1940s, sodium chloride, commonly referred to as rock salt, has been the most widely used de-icer. In the United States, we use an estimated 8 to 12 million tons of rock salt on our roads each year, according to the National Research Council. Despite its wide use, sodium chloride has proven to be unsafe in excess amounts to children and pets during winter outings, as well as harmful to aquatic and plant life, the environment, and infrastructure.

  • If you use rock salt or other common de-icers, make sure to use the recommended amount. Adding more does not increase its effectiveness.
  • Applying brine or saltwater to roads can dramatically decrease the amount of salt used, expense, and the amount of salt that ends up in streams.
  • Remove as much snow as you can manually before it freezes over so that de-icers become unnecessary.
  • Cover important areas with plastic prior to a storm to prevent snow and ice from accumulating directly on these surfaces, and then remove the plastic before it has a chance to freeze in place.
  • Put down salt and de-icers as soon as a storm appears evident to prevent the ice from bonding to the pavement in the first place.
  • Salt stops functioning under 15° Fahrenheit. Safe Paw is a great salt-free alternative and is effective down to -2° Fahrenheit. Enviro-heat (beet juice blend) is effective down to -30° Fahrenheit and it is people and pet friendly too.
  • Sand and gravel can be spread over icy, slick areas to provide traction, eliminating the need to use de-icers in certain situations. Alfalfa meal and wood ash provide traction in addition to actually melting the ice and are natural fertilizers, so they will not harm the plants along your sidewalk or area of use. Check with your local garden center for alfalfa meal which is different from the pellet form sold in feed stores.

Auto Care

  • Washing your car and degreasing auto parts at home can send detergents and other contaminants, such as oil and toxic metals, to the storm sewer.
  • Use a commercial car wash or wash your car on your lawn or other unpaved surface so the water flows into the ground.
  • Repair fluid leaks as soon as possible, an dispose of used auto fluids at designated recycling centers.
  • Clean up spilled fluids with an absorbent material like kitty litter or sand and properly dispose of the waste material.

Pet Waste

Volunteers picking trash out of the creek
Ladue High School students participate in Deer Creek cleanup.
© All Rights Reserved.

Pet waste is a major source of bacteria in your watershed. To help reduce the public health risk from disposing of pet waste in your yard, and when walking your pet, please properly dispose of pet waste by:

  • Putting pet waste in a sealed bag and place it in the trash.
  • Flushing pet waste down the toilet. Do not flush plastic bags or kitty litter.
  • Burying waste in the soil at least six inches deep. Do not bury it in the garden or compost pile.
  • Having pets defecate in tall grasses (>4 inches) located away from storm inlets. The grass acts as a filter and allows the waste to naturally break down.

Pools and Spas

  • Discharge of chlorinated water from pools, even in low concentrations, to a storm sewer or creek can kill fish and other aquatic life.
  • Chlorinated water should be disposed so it does not enter storm sewers or surface waters.
  • Drain residential pool or spa chlorinated water to storm water when a test kit does not detect chlorine levels and only if approved by your local municipality.
  • Discharge filter backwash water from residential pools and spas into the sanitary sewer.
  • Properly store pool and spa chemicals to prevent leaks and spills.

Additional Resources

Stream Care Guide for Streamside Landowners
Use this guide to both assess the health of waterways around your property and learn the best ways to keep them healthy.

Lawn Reform
Great information about regionally appropriate lawn species, organic and low-water care of all lawns, and examples of gardens with less lawn or even no lawn at all to inspire homeowners, as well as owners of larger properties.

The Benefits of Urban Trees
Trees within our urban areas improve water quality and decrease flooding.