James Pinsky: Don’t run off just yet

James Pinsky

There are lots of different kinds of run off. Some are better than others.

There’s the whole run off and get married thing, some of us run off to avoid things like ex-girlfriends, angry dads, or debtors. Then, there’s environmental runoff.

For years I thought it was what happened to over aggressive hikers who met bears, badgers and other forest friendly creatures when they realized Disney is the only place where critters with fangs want shake your hands.

Funny what education can do for you?

No, in the conservation world run-off is, according to the experts at the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science School, the water that comes from precipitation, snow melt, or irrigation water that appears in uncontrolled (not regulated by a dam upstream) surface streams, rivers, drains or sewers.

Run off can be good, like when it helps replenish rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and oceans or it can be bad, like when it leads to flooding in places where it can’t constructively be redirected or absorbed. Another thing about run off is environmentally speaking; it’s quite the social butterfly. You see run off enables all kinds of things to catch a ride as it flows. Sometimes that means useful and welcome friends like nutrients, minerals and other ecologically-friendly things and other times it picks up some potential conservation criminals like oil, grease, pesticides and excess sediment or nutrients.

According to U.S. Geological Survey Water Science School, as runoff flows over the land surface, stormwater picks up potential pollutants that may include sediment, nutrients (from lawn fertilizers), bacteria (from animal and human waste), pesticides (from lawn and garden chemicals), metals (from rooftops and roadways), and petroleum by-products (from leaking vehicles).

These terrestrial thugs are then reclassified as nonpoint source polluters, which means they come from a variety of places.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nonpoint source pollution can include: excess fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas, oil, grease and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production, sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding streambanks, salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines, bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes and faulty septic systems, and atmospheric deposition and hydromodification.

So what all of this tells us is that regardless of what kind of run off you deal with, in the end it probably wasn’t the choice to run off that might have been a bad idea, but who and what you choose to do it with that got you into trouble in the first place.

As conservationists, there’s quite a bit we can do to help make sure our run off sees a lot less thugs and a lot more trees, soil and permeable surfaces as its flows. Simple acts of not littering, properly disposing of oils and greases, and encouraging well-engineered stormwater drainage systems in our towns and cities can have a significant impact lowering the level of environmental criminal activity so our soil and water quality is as good as it can be.

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A friendly reminder that Tuesday,at 7 p.m. at the Strasburg Community Center, 726 East Queen St., is our last public meeting as part of our four-year strategic planning review. We encourage everyone to participate. A schedule of the public meetings with the location, date and time is available on our website along with a link to this survey: www.lfswcd.org

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.