Education in Nonpoint Source Pollution Prevention

Runoff from everyday activities can contribute to water pollution. Here are ways to prevent it.

Table of Contents


Clean water is important to all of us.

It's up to all of us to make it happen. In recent years, sources of water pollution like industrial wastes from factories have been greatly reduced. Now, more than 60 percent of water pollution comes from things like cars leaking oil, fertilizers from farms and gardens, and failing septic tanks. All these sources add up to a big pollution problem. But each of us can do small things to help clean up our water too - and that adds up to a pollution solution!

Why do we need clean water?

Having clean water is of primary importance for our health and economy. Clean water provides recreation, commercial opportunities, fish habitat, drinking water, and adds beauty to our landscape. All of us benefit from clean water - and all of us have a role in getting and keeping our lakes, rivers, streams, marine, and ground waters clean.

What can I do?

You might not realize that such everyday tasks as do-it-yourself car maintenance, lawn care, or walking your dog can contribute to water pollution. Here are some tips for preventing it!

Car Washing

When you wash your car in the driveway, remember - you're not just washing your car in the driveway.

All the soap, scum, and oily grit runs along the curb. Then into a storm drain and directly into our lakes, rivers, and streams. And that causes pollution which is unhealthy for everyone. So how do you avoid this whole mess? Easy! Wash your car on the grass or gravel instead of the street. Or better yet, take it to a car wash where the water gets treated or recycled

What's the problem with car washing?

There's no problem with washing your car. It's just how and where you do it. The average driveway car wash uses a total of 116 gallons of water! Most commercial car washes use 60 percent less water in the entire washing process than a simple home wash uses just to rinse off a car. Most soap contains phosphates and other chemicals that harm fish and water quality. The soap, together with the dirt and oil washed from your car, flows into nearby storm drains which run directly into lakes, rivers, or marine waters. The phosphates from the soap can cause excess algae to grow. Algae look bad, smell bad, and harm water quality. As algae decay, they use up oxygen in the water that fish and other wildlife need.

Clean Water Tips: How can you wash your car and help keep our waters clean?

  • Use soap sparingly. Use a hose nozzle with a trigger to save water.
  • Pour your bucket of soapy water down the sink when you're done, not in the street. Or wash your care on a grassy area so the ground can filter the water naturally.
  • Best of all, take your car to a commercial car wash, especially if you plan to clean the engine or the bottom of your car. Most car washes reuse wash water several times before sending it to the sewer system for treatment.

To find out more about the advantages of using commercial car washes, the New England Carwash Association (NECA) website provides a list, with the locations, of all the state's carwashes. Consumers can call the NECA  at 781-245-7400 to get information on the latest technologies carwashes are using to battle nonpoint source pollution in your community and in the state!

Also see the guidance in our Unpaved Roads Best Management Practices Manual, linked below.

Motor Oil

When your car leaks oil on the street, remember - it's not just leaking oil on the street.

Leaking oil goes from car to street. Then it gets washed from the street into the storm drain and into our lakes, rivers, and streams. Now imagine the number of cars in the area and you can imagine the amount of oil that finds its way from leaky gaskets into our water. So please, fix oil leaks.

What's the problem with motor oil?

Oil doesn't dissolve in water. It lasts a long time and sticks to everything from beach sand to bird feathers. Oil and petroleum products are toxic to people, wildlife, and plants. One quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of water, and one gallon of gasoline can pollute 750,000 gallons of water! Oil that leaks from our cars onto roads and driveways is washed into storm drains, and then usually flows directly into a lake or stream. Used motor oil is the largest single source of oil pollution in lakes, streams, and rivers. Americans spill 180 million gallons of used oil each year into the nation's waters. This is 16 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska!

Clean Water Tips: How can you maintain your vehicle and help keep waters clean?

  • Check for oil leaks from your vehicle regularly and fix them promptly!
  • Never dispose of oil or other engine fluids down the storm drain, on the ground, or into a ditch. Recycle used motor oil. For more information on recycling, contact the closest MassDEP Regional Office.
  • Buy recycled oil to use in your car.
  • Use dropcloths or drip pans beneath your vehicle if you have leaks or are doing engine work. Clean up spills!


When you fertilize the lawn, remember - you're not just fertilizing the lawn.

It's hard to imagine that a green, flourishing lawn could pose a threat to the environment, but the fertilizers you apply to your lawn are potential pollutants! If applied improperly or in excess, fertilizer can be washed off your property and end up in lakes and streams. This causes algae to grow, which uses up oxygen that fish need to survive. So if you fertilize, please follow directions and use sparingly.

What's the problem with fertilizers?

Fertilizer is a "growing" problem for lakes, rivers, and streams, especially if it's not used carefully. If you use too much fertilizer or apply it at the wrong time, it can easily wash off your lawn or garden into storm drains and then flow into lakes or streams. Just like in your garden, fertilizer in lakes and streams makes plants grow. In water bodies, extra fertilizer can mean extra algae and aquatic plant growth. Too much algae causes water quality problems and makes boating, fishing, and swimming unpleasant. As algae decay, they use up oxygen in the water that fish and other wildlife need.

Clean Water Tips: How can you fertilize and help keep our waters clean?

  • Use fertilizer sparingly. Many plants don't need as much fertilizer or need it as often as you might think.
  • Don't fertilize before a rain storm.
  • Consider using organic fertilizers. They release nutrients more slowly.
  • Have your soil tested before applying fertilizers to your lawn and gardens. You may not need to add any fertilizer. Call the UMass Extension Soil Testing Lab at 413-545-2311 or download a soil test order form at

Pet Waste

When your pet goes on the lawn, remember - it doesn't just go on the lawn.

When our pets leave those little surprises, rain can wash pet waste and bacteria into our storm drains that can pollute our waterways. So what to do? Simple! Dispose of it properly. Then that little surprise gets treated like it should.

What's the problem with pet waste?

It's a health risk to pets and people, especially children. It's a nuisance in our neighborhoods. Pet waste is full of bacteria that can make people sick. If it's washed into the storm drain and ends up in a lake, stream, or marine water, the bacteria ends up in shellfish. People who eat those shellfish can get very sick. The waste produced by cats and dogs in the Charles River Watershed adds up to nearly 3 tons per day! Unless people take care of it, the waste enters our water with no treatment.

Clean Water Tips: How can you get rid of pet waste and help keep our waters clean?

  • Never dump pet waste into a storm drain or catch basin, since the average dog dropping produces 3 billion fecal coliform bacteria.
  • If your community doesn't regulate pet waste (e.g., "scooper" law), try to make it a priority of your local governing body. Encourage your community to adopt a "pooper-scooper" ordinance.
  • Scoop up and seal pet wastes in a plastic bag. Dispose of properly, in the garbage.

Additional Resources   for Pet Waste

Horsekeeping and Water Quality

These fact sheets encourage best management practices for landowners with horses. These simple practices can help prevent the contamination of local water supplies. 

Vegetated Buffer Strips: Slow the Flow to Protect Water Quality
Vegetated buffer strips along lakes and streams can protect and improve water quality on your property and in your community.

Horsekeeping & Water Quality: A Horse Owner's Guide to Protecting Massachusetts Natural Resources
Best management practices to ensure the protection of the environment and the health of your horse.

Horsekeeping & Water Quality: Composting
How composting manure benefits the environment and protects horses' health.

Horsekeeping: Protecting Public Health & Drinking Water
Potential risks from pasture runoff, and what horse owners can do to prevent contamination of water supplies, including recommended well setback distances from manure piles.

Horsekeeping: Information Sources
Useful links for information about environmentally-responsible horsekeeping.

Horsekeeping & Water Quality: Manure Management for Healthy Horses
How proper manure management ensures the health of both horses and the environment.

Horsekeeping & Water Quality: Manure Impacts on Surface Water Quality
How proper manure management prevents water pollution.

Horsekeeping & Water Quality: The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and Single Family Home/Horse Ownership
How the Wetlands Protection Act impacts horse owners.

Water Quality & Horsekeeping: Mud and Pasture Management
Controlling mud buildup in pastures to preserve the health of horses and the environment.

Manure Management: Protecting Water Resources from Nutrient Pollution
From the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture, best management practices for preventing animal waste from contaminating groundwater.

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