Jay Pinsky: Want your snow white? Plant some trees

Snow. It sure is pretty. Well, it was…

Mother Nature’s decision to roll out the white carpet brings out some of the best scenic beauty our region has to offer. It also reminds us that we are constantly polluting it. The snow just makes it much easier to see. After all, there’s a reason folks wear white in hospitals and not on construction sites.

As anyone with children, husbands or dogs knows, white carpet doesn’t stay white for long. Shoes, boots and paws drag the world across the plush, soft, pure as the driven, uh, carpet. Add in the countless meals, drinks, paints, parties and other life events and it doesn’t take long for us humans to soil that beautiful, clean, white tread.

Snow is no different in its capacity to absorb the things around it, for better or worse. In fact, to be more accurate, think of snow more like a sponge than carpet absorbing non-point source pollution from our day-to-day lives as human beings. Just about every drop of dirt, grime, oil and crud we humans splatter about in our day-to-day lives shows up on Jack Frost’s powdery canvas.

The problem is, not only does snow collect our dirty business, it helps spread it around like a bad rumor in middle school. You see, when snow melts and I promise ours will, it doesn’t simply vanish. It goes somewhere else, in fact everywhere else as something we conservationists like to call runoff. As the runoff, uh – runs, flows, seeps and trickles down and into our soil and local watersheds it takes the nutrients, minerals and yes, pollutants with it.

How much runoff there is from snowmelt depends on quite a few factors, including the land’s vegetation, soil type, drainage area, basin shape, elevation, topography, drainage and the presence of ponds, lakes, reservoirs and anything else that might physically inhibit or delay runoff from continuing downstream. It is here where conscientious landowners and other fellow citizens can help improve our community soil and water health by protecting and improving our planet’s all-natural filtration system. Enabling natural succession, improving or simply establishing riparian buffers, planting cover crops, using and building sustainable erosion sediment infrastructure, and even something as simple as just planting a few trees in your own backyard are all things just about anyone can do to help control runoff.

There’s more good news for those amongst us who wish to be the change we want to see in our environmental world. We can also lower how many non-point source pollutants there are for the snow, and other water sources to absorb in the first place through a variety of good environmental housekeeping habits.

Here are some useful tips from the Environmental Protection Agency:

• Keep litter, pet wastes, leaves and debris out of street gutters and storm drains–these outlets drain directly to lake, streams, rivers and wetlands.

• Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and according to directions.

• Dispose of used oil, antifreeze, paints and other household chemicals properly — not in storm sewers or drains. If your community does not already have a program for collecting household hazardous wastes, ask your local government to establish one.

• Clean up spilled brake fluid, oil, grease and antifreeze. Do not hose them into the street where they can eventually reach local streams and lakes.

• Control soil erosion on your property by planting ground cover and stabilizing erosion-prone areas.

• Encourage local government officials to develop construction erosion and sediment control ordinances in your community.

• Have your septic system inspected and pumped, at a minimum every three to five years, so that it operates properly.

• Purchase household detergents and cleaners that are low in phosphorous to reduce the amount of nutrients discharged into our lakes, streams and coastal waters.

For more information about what you can do to help keep our snow white, our water clean and our soil rich, contact us at Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District contact us at 540-465-2424, ext 190 or visit us at www.lfswcd.org.

James Pinsky is the Education and Information Coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 465-2424 ext. 104 or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.