Cleaning Up Our Polluted Waterways

Homeowners and business owners can play a key role in cleaning up our polluted waterways through behavioral changes such as:

Rain Gardens | Rain Barrels | Washing Your Car Right | Pet Waste | Erosion and Sedimentation Control | Recycling and Household Hazardous Waste Collection | Additional Stormwater Management Resources

Rain Gardens

What is a rain garden? Rain gardens are shallow depressions filled with native plants designed to catch storm water runoff from roof gutters, streets, parking lots or other areas. Rain gardens are being widely implemented across the country to manage storm water, utilizing it as a resource rather than channeling it to storm drains which lead directly to area creeks, rivers and lakes. Managing storm water onsite with rain gardens reduces downstream erosion, flooding, and pollution and recharges the groundwater aquifer.

What plants are used? Native plants are recommended because their deep roots help water to soak in and they are able to tolerate both short periods of standing water and drought conditions. Native plants also don’t need to be fertilized.

Will the rain gardens cause mosquitoes? Mosquitoes need at least a week of standing water to complete their lifecycle from egg to adult. Poorly maintained birdbaths and gutters are more likely than rain gardens to serve as mosquito breeding grounds.

How do I plant my own rain garden? Click on the following resources:

MARC Rain Garden Resources
Kansas City 10,000 Rain Gardens Site
Rain Garden Plantings (pdf)
Designing a Rain Garden (pdf)
• Planning Guides & Templates: Budget Garden (pdf), Color Garden (pdf), High Functionality Garden (pdf)
• For more information on native plants, visit Grow Native!

Rain Barrels

What is a rain barrel? A rain barrel is a container that collects and stores rainwater from downspouts and rooftops for future use watering lawns and gardens. Generally a rain barrel is made using a 55-gallon drum, a vinyl garden hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to remove debris and keep insects out, and other materials found at most hardware stores.

Why use rain barrels? They irrigate your lawn and garden. During the summer months it is estimated that nearly 40 percent of household water is used for lawn and garden maintenance. A rain barrel collects water and stores it for those times that you need it most — during the dry summer months. Using rain barrels potentially helps homeowners lower water bills, while also improving the vitality of plants, flowers, trees, and lawns.

Rain is naturally soft and devoid of minerals, chlorine, fluoride, and other harmful chemicals. The chemicals and hard water from many of our municipal water systems can add to chemical imbalances in soil and damage sensitive plants.

Water collected from the roofs of houses picks up very little contamination, and is very healthy for plant life.

A wonderful way to complement your rain barrel and increase your property’s ability to absorb runoff is through a rain garden (see above).

How to build a rain barrel

Rain barrels can be constructed in a number of ways, but they all serve the same purpose — to collect rainwater and decrease the amount of stormwater runoff that leaves your property. Using rain barrels is one way to decrease your household’s impact on local waterways and to become a good steward of the local watershed.

Learn how to build your own rain barrel at the MARC Build Your Own Rain Barrel website.

Wash Your Car Right

Many of us do not consider the affect that washing a car can have on the environment. However, washing dirt or sediment off of a vehicle may actually cause harm to local waterways and aquatic habitats.

When you wash your car at your home in your driveway, the wastewater typically runs into a storm drain. These storm drains are different than sanitary sewers because the water is not treated before it enters local lakes, creeks or streams. Therefore, all of the dirt, pollutants, residue from exhaust fumes, gasoline and motor oil that you are washing off of your vehicles are being immediately directed into those waterways.

Individuals who wash their car at home also typically use more water than individuals who go to a car wash. In fact, the average homeowner uses 116 gallons of water to clean their car. Most commercial car washes use 60 percent less water to wash the entire car than most homeowners use just to rinse the car.

However, there are steps that you can take so that you can have a shiny car without harming the environment.
• If you can, take your car to a commercial car wash. Most locations reuse the water before sending it to a treatment plant.
• If you must wash your car at home, use biodegradable, phosphate-free, waterbased cleaners only. Use a spray nozzle on the hose to reduce the amount of water needed to clean the vehicle. Try to wash the car on gravel or grass so that the water can soak into the ground, however, only wash the car on the grass if you are using biodegradable, phosphate-free cleaners.
• Empty excess soap buckets into a sink or toilet so that it can be treated.

For more information about water quality issues, please contact the City by calling 816-630-0755. To learn more about water quality, please visit the Mid-America Regional Council website.

Pick Up After Your Pet

Every time it rains, thousands of pounds of pet waste wash down storm drain and into streams, rivers and lakes. If not disposed of property, pet waste flows directly into nearby streams and creeks without being treated at wastewater treatment facilities.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey study of streams and creeks in the Kansas City region showed that bacteria associated with pet waste is the source of approximately 25 percent of the bacteria in samples collected from local waterways.

When pet waste is disposed of improperly, water quality isn’t the only thing that suffers — your health may be at risk, too. Adults working in their gardens, children playing outside and family pets are the most at risk for infection from some of the bacteria and parasites found in pet waste.

What you can do:
• Pick up pet waste from your yard. It is not a fertilizer.
• Carry disposable bags while walking your dog to pick up and dispose of waste properly. When you dispose of pet waste in the trash, wrap it carefully to avoid spilling during collection.
• Bury pet waste in your yard, at least 12 inches deep and cover with at least eight inches of soil to let it decompose slowly.
• Bury the waste in several different locations and keep it away from vegetable gardens.
• Contact your local parks department to inquire about providing pet waste stations in area parks, along trails and in public places where people frequently walk their dogs.

Together, we can make smart choices and preserve our streams and natural resources for future generations.

Erosion and Sedimentation Control

Sediment is a leading pollutant of urban streams, and new local, state and federal regulations require the use of adequate erosion and sediment-control (ESC) measures.

National and local studies have shown repeatedly that dispersed of “nonpoint” sources of pollution carried by stormwater runoff are major contributors to water pollution. The National Water Quality Inventory, 1996 Report to Congress stated that stormwater runoff is the leading cause of water quality impairment on a nationwide basis. Recent local studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and Kansas City, Missouri, reveal that many pollutants in our area streams exceed national standards.

Best Management Practices

Developers, engineers, and planners must control volumes and quality of stormwater discharges as our watersheds develop — crucial elements for protecting human life and property, maintaining water quality, and creating environmentally sensitive site designs. Stormwater best management practices (BMP) are a major element of environmentally sound development. In the broadest sense, a stormwater BMP is any action or practice aimed at reducing flow rates and pollutant concentrations in urban runoff. In practice, BMPs typically include “nonstructural” practices such as preserving natural vegetation, particularly next to streams; and “structural” practices like vegetated swales, stormwater wetlands, and wet detention basins planted with native vegetation. BMPs are “best practices” because they provide benefits beyond stormwater management, and often cost less over time than traditional practices.

For more information on stormwater BMPs, visit the Mid-America Regional Council website.

Erosion and Drainage Concerns

Most drainage concerns on private property are a private or civil matter and the City has no jurisdiction or responsibility. For more information, or to report erosion and drainage concerns associated with public property, you may contact the Public Works at 816-630-0755.

Building construction sites are required to utilize and maintain adequate erosion and sediment-control (ESC) measures per the conditions of the building and grading permits. To report erosion and drainage concerns on building construction sites, you may contact the Code Enforcement & Inspections Department at 816-630-9567.