Water conservation is one of the most significant ways we can help provide for the future of Broward County. But of equal importance is protecting the quality of our water resources. Our efforts to save water for the future will be of little value if the water we save is polluted. Whether it’s the Everglades or the Atlantic coral reefs, the County’s canal system or the Biscayne Aquifer, water pollution poses a threat.
Untreated stormwater runoff is now considered the state’s leading source of pollution. Stormwater runoff is water from rainfall that accumulates and runs off land surfaces such as streets, parking lots, construction sites, and business and residential lawns.
It is considered “non-point source” pollution, because unlike “point source” pollution, it doesn’t come from one specific location — it comes from a broad range of sources. Pollutants carried by this runoff can be discharged into canals, lakes, and other bodies of water with adverse environmental impacts.
In Broward County, a major source of stormwater pollution is landscape runoff. The fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides we use to keep our yards looking their best can actually end up doing more harm than good. When it rains, these pollutants along with other contaminants like paint, gasoline, and oil, can run off from our properties and into our local retention areas, canals, and larger systems of water like the Everglades and coastal waters.
Fertilizers in particular can cause some serious problems for our water resources. Fertilizers promote the growth of algae and aquatic weeds because they contain high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, two nutrients that encourage plant growth.
The uncontrolled growth of algae and undesirable aquatic plants (like hydrilla and cattails) harms our waters in many ways.
Once fertilizers enter our waterways, they can cause the rapid growth of algae. Algal biomass clouds the water and blocks sunlight, causing stress to underwater vegetation.
When that vegetation dies, it sinks to the bottom and is decomposed by bacteria. As the bacteria feeds off the vegetation, it depletes oxygen from the water that fish and other organisms need to live, and can result in large fish kills.
Plant biomass can also choke canals, restricting water flow. This often results in the need for chemical treatment, which is not only costly, but also contributes to the pollution of our water. Excess fertilizers in our water can also cause changes in established ecosystems. For instance, cattails can grow so dense that they squeeze out all native plants, allowing exotic and invasive plants to take hold. This can limit foraging by wildlife and eventually cause native species to seek other places for habitat.
Fertilizers are just part of the problem, however. Stormwater runoff contains a number of contaminants that can contribute to public health problems. It’s estimated that approximately 80 to 95 percent of the heavy metals like lead, zinc, copper, cadmium, and mercury that enter Florida waters are the result of runoff from our yards, farms, streets, and other paved areas. That is why it is vital to control the amount of stormwater that flows off our properties and into our water management system. It’s also important that we care for our water management system and make sure that it is working correctly, so that it can mitigate the effects of those contaminants before they can reach our drinking water supplies or aquatic environments.
The good news is there are basic ways you can help prevent water pollution. Personal actions and proper management of stormwater runoff can improve the health of our lakes, rivers, estuaries, and coastal waters. Every individual can make a significant contribution to protecting Broward’s water resources.
Doing Your Part
We can each achieve positive changes in the quality of our water supply and environment by starting in our own yards and neighborhoods. Maintaining a healthy yard helps our urban areas coexist with natural systems. Practicing environmentally friendly landscaping will help reduce the amount of contaminants that reach adjacent water bodies. You can start by reducing the amount of fertilizer you use, selecting low phosphorous fertilizers (those containing less than 2% phosphorous), selecting low-maintenance plants, and following local water restrictions. You can also incorporate ground covers into your landscape to reduce sediment erosion. NatureScape Broward focuses on the many other ways you can protect water quality through environmentally-friendly landscaping practices. You can learn more about how to create a NatureScape by visiting www.broward.org/naturalresources/naturescape.
Good landscaping practices will help reduce the amount of pollution that runs off from your yard, but it won’t eliminate it completely. That’s why the local components of the region’s water management system are so important. This neighborhood system (called the “tertiary” system) includes areas like neighborhood swales, retention ponds and water holding areas like lakes and ponds.
These areas collect stormwater runoff and allow contaminants to settle out before the water is discharged to a larger body of water. Swales and retention areas also act as natural filters—removing the pollution from water as it seeps into the ground and recharges the aquifer.
Treatment of polluted water is most effective when the tertiary system, including swales, catch basins, and detention areas, is properly maintained. To help Broward County homeowners and businesses better understand their role, Broward has developed a program called Know the Flow. The program educates individual residents, property managers, landscape professionals, and homeowner’s associations about their responsibilities and the role they play within the local water management system and in the region. One of their responsibilities is to make sure these tertiary areas are free of litter and debris, so that water can flow freely. This is a duty that is often overlooked until a storm comes through and drainage is blocked. We notice the resulting water quantity issues right away, but water quality problems are just as significant. Visit the Know the Flow website to find out more about how the water management system works in Broward County, and how your actions directly affect our water supply and environment.
Understanding how your practices and habits affect the larger system of water in our region is a critical step towards protecting our water resources. You will learn many additional strategies for helping to prevent water pollution and improving water conservation in the Protecting Water Resources section of this website.