Wednesday, July 29, 2009

To coin a phrase

Remember that old tag line, "An educated consumer is our best customer"? GSWA is dedicated to improving water quality and quanity, and the biodiversity it supports. And a large part of our mission is to educate the community about ways they can directly impact the health of our streams and rivers.

This fall GSWA is introducing its Streamside Series. The first of the series – Streamside Living – will focus on actions you can take as a homeowner to improve the environment. We’re not talking about major lifestyle changes, like walking to work instead of driving; we’re talking about simple changes in behavior that can make a world of difference in improving the quality of our water, now and for generations to come.

You don’t have to wait until the fall, though, to start making a difference. One relatively easy yet powerfully effective thing you can do today is reduce the amount of phosphorus (also called phosphates) you use at home. Though an essential nutrient for plants, too much phosphorus washed into our rivers and streams creates excessive plant growth. The over-abundant plants then decompose, reducing the available oxygen necessary for the survival of fish and other organisms, who have their own roles to play in maintaining stream health.

Phosphorus is found in fertilizers and dishwasher detergent, among other places. When used in fertilizers, it washes off lawns during storms and finds its way into storm drains that empty into our rivers and streams. When used in dishwasher detergent, phosphates find their way from your drain into sewer treatment facilities, which do not currently treat for phosphorous reduction. The resulting discharge from sewer treatment facilities, including the phosphorus, empties back into our rivers and streams.

One recent study found that 19% of phosphates that enter the sewer treatment systems comes from dishwasher detergent. Based in part on data collected by Great Swamp Watershed Association, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has become concerned about the abundance of phosphorus being returned untreated to our streams. The DEP has promulgated regulations which will require sewer treatment facilities to reduce the amount of phosphorus they discharge by 60%.

So, how you can help reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing untreated into our streams? One way is to find a dishwasher detergent that contains little or no phosphates. For instance, Palmolive Gel has 1.6% phosphates and Palmolive Tablets have 8.7%. Of course, you don’t want to reduce cleaning ability. Tests conducted in 2005 by Consumer Reports found that enzymes in dishwasher detergent was the most important cleansing agent in the detergent – much more so than phosphates. So read the label and find a detergent with enzymes and low or no phosphates…and your dishes will be as clean as ever.

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