Thursday, May 12, 2005

Illinois, Be Riversmart

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When asked how far it is to the nearest river, most of us would answer in terms of miles, since we think of getting there over roads. But we are also connected to waterways via the pipes that bring water into our homes and the sewer systems that take it away. This understanding, that we’re more closely connected to rivers than we think, is the foundation for an ongoing campaign sponsored by the Prairie Rivers Network called, “Illinois, Be RiverSmart.”

The RiverSmart campaign is designed to remind people that their everyday activities have significant impacts on the health of local rivers.

One major thrust of the RiverSmart campaign encourages people to conserve water at home by adopting inexpensive, commonsense water-saving practices. Some of the tips under this heading include minor home improvements, such as installing low-flow toilets and water-saving showerheads. Others remind us that it pays to invest in water-conserving appliances when it comes time to replace a dishwasher or washing machine. Still other tips for water conservation point out that minor changes in our habits can have a significant cumulative impact on how much water we use—turning off the water while brushing teeth and shaving, watering lawns sparingly and only in the morning, running dishwashers and washing machines only when they are full.

In addition to urging people to limit the amount of water they use, the RiverSmart campaign encourages us to recognize and eliminate the kinds of water pollution that begin at home. This means fixing car leaks promptly, and disposing of oil and antifreeze safely, never, ever, dumping such substances down storm drains. The same goes for household cleaners, paint, and other chemicals. It’s also possible to eliminate some of the concern about how hazardous chemicals are disposed of by bringing fewer of them into the home to begin with. For instance, you might want to try environmentally friendly cleaners and avoid those containing chlorine, phosphates, and solvents.

Around your yard, you can do your part to help control water pollution by eliminating, or at least minimizing the use of pesticide and fertilizer. On the farm it’s crucial to develop nutrient management plans and follow University of Illinois Extension guidelines for fertilizers and pesticides.

Now, if you feel overloaded with tips for things you can do to protect the environment, or you simply have trouble remembering them, here’s an easy way to join the RiverSmart campaign. Look at your household drain, look at the storm sewer outside, and say to yourself, the river starts here.

If you’re interested in organized efforts to promote clean waterways, check out the Water Festival at the Urbana Middle School this Saturday, May 14, from noon to 3:00 p.m. Crews of middle school students and visitors will go out from the school to stencil storm drains with the message, “Dump No Waste, Drains to Rivers.” The Water Festival will also feature food and family games, as well as music, courtesy of the Urbana Middle School Tiger Steel Drum Band. Groups including the Champaign County Forest Preserve, the City of Urbana Public Works Department, Prairie Rivers Network, the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Urbana Middle School Water Works Program will also be on hand to promote clean waterways at the heart of the city, where they begin.