Elk River Basin - Nonpoint Source Pollution
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Non-point pollution originates from many widespread sources. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where non-point source pollution originates.   Non-point source pollution is the greatest cause of pollution in our nation’s waters. We all contribute non-point source pollution to our waters. Some examples of non-point source pollutants are:

  • Runoff from chemicals applied on land used to kill weeds and bugs

  • Fertilizers applied on yards and farmlands to enhance plant growth.

  • Oil, grease, antifreeze, and brake fluid from automobiles that drips onto the pavement.

  • Soil that erodes from the banks of rivers and soil that runs off of the land into the river.

  • Bacteria from the wastes of animals. This includes wastes from farm animals, pets, wildlife, and humans.

  • Septic tanks that leak. This causes bacteria and phosphorous to enter the water

Reducing nonpoint source pollution

Storm Water Runoff

Water that runs off of our driveways, yards, and streets after a rainstorm is known as “stormwater runoff”. This polluted water flows into a storm drain and does not go to a facility to be treated before it runs into area lakes and streams. There are some easy things that can be done around your house that will reduce the amount of stormwater runoff. There are many things that you can do to make sure that the water entering area storm drains is as clean as it can be.

  • If you see oil, grease, antifreeze, or brake fluid in your driveway or garage, ask your parents if you can help clean it up. Do not hose it off into the grass because this could cause the chemicals to seep into the groundwater.
  • Do not pour harmful chemicals like household cleaners and paint down the drain and do not pour them on the ground outside. Call your local city hall to find out and appropriate disposal procedures.
  • Ask your parents to buy detergents and cleaners that are low in phosphorous. Phosphorous is a chemical that causes algae to grow faster in the lakes or rivers.
  • Ask your parents what kind of chemicals or fertilizers they put on the yard. Suggest that they cut down on these materials to help reduce non-point pollution. Using a small amount of fertilizer and bug sprays on your yard will reduce the amount of pollution that runs into the stream. Soil tests can also be completed to determine what kind and how much fertilizer is needed.
  • Instead of fertilizers that you buy from the store, your family can make a compost pile. Your family can choose a part of the yard to put grass clippings, old vegetables, and plants from a garden. Use this compost pile as a natural fertilizer. When mowing the lawn, leave the clippings on the yard as a natural fertilizer.
  • If there is a street gutter near your house, don’t pour or put anything in it. This will all reach a river or lake in a small amount of time.
  • If you have a pet that goes to the bathroom in the yard, clean up after it and throw its waste into the garbage can. When it rains on your yard, your pet’s waste will run into the storm drain or seep into the groundwater. This will cause harmful bacteria and more phosphorous to enter into the river.
    Plant some trees and plants in your yard. This will help slow down the rainwater and reduce erosion.
  • If you wash your parent’s car outside or help them with it, it is better to park the car on a grassy area or go to a car wash. This will reduce the amount of polluted water that will flow into the storm drain. Use low-phosphate soap and use a bucket of water to clean your car instead of letting the hose run and run.

If You Live on a Farm

Talk to your parents about how much fertilizer, weed and bug sprays they use. Encourage them to use less if possible.

  • Do not let your animals wade into the river if it is nearby.

  • Clean up animal wastes so that when it rains, it does not flow into the river.

  • Plant some plants near a riverbank to help reduce the amount of pollutants that reach the stream.

Own a Septic Tank

If your home has a septic tank, ask your parents if they have had it inspected in a while.   Septic systems should be pumped out every 3 years.   If it is not kept up to date, pollution might leak from it and harm the waterways.

Signs that your septic tank is failing

  • Sinks and toilets are draining slowly
  • Gurgling sounds coming from the plumbing
  • Plumbing backups
  • Sewage odors in the house or yard
  • The ground is wet or mushy around the septic tank
  • Grass in one area of the yard is growing faster and greener
  • Tests on well water show bacteria present

Source:   “A Homeowner’s Guide to On-Site Sewage Treatment and Soil Potential Ratings.” Southwest Missouri Resource Conservation and Development.

If your residence has a septic system:

Do not:

  • Do not put grease, solvents, paints, kerosene, gasoline, motor oil, pesticides, chemical drain openers, septic tank additives or cooking fats into home drains or toilets.
  • Do not dig in, build over, or drive on your lateral field.
  • Do not plant any vegetation on your lateral field except grass.  Roots from other plants will clog the lateral lines.
  • Do not go into your septic tank chamber. Deadly gasses may build up inside the chamber.


  • Pump your septic tank every 2-5 years. An inspection every 3 years will help determine if your tank is ready to be pumped.
  • Obtain necessary permits from the appropriate local agency before making repairs.
  • Use certified installers and pumpers when needed, especially if effluent is surfacing over the lateral lines.
  • Keep the septic tank pump chamber cover accessible. Be sure the cover is securely locked and no larger than 12 inches in diameter.  
  • Keep detailed records of maintenance, repairs, inspections, and permits.

Source: James River Basin Partnership

To Dispose of Harmful Materials and Products that are Hazardous

There are some key words to look for to see if a chemical is harmful.   If they see words on the container like “danger” or “poison”, these materials need to be disposed of properly.   Other words to look for are: warning, corrosive, caution, reactive, explosive, toxic, combustible, and flammable.   The following products are hazardous and cannot be poured down the drain, on the ground, or in the trashcan:

  • Products from your garage that are used on cars.   These include gasoline, oil, washer fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze, brake fluid, and car cleaners.

  • Products used around the house like paint, paint thinner, stain, and varnish.   Other harmful leftover materials include batteries and prescription medicines.

  • Bug sprays used on lawn, in the house, by you, and on pets

  • Toilet bowl cleaner, oven cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, and other household cleaners.

  • Shoe polish, lighter fluid, pool chemicals, aerosol cans.

Household Chemical Collection Center

To dispose of harmful chemicals and waste, you can call the Household Chemical Collection Center in Springfield at 417-864-2000. The person at the facility will advise how to dispose of the waste properly. If the waste is too hazardous, the person at the facility will advise  how to transport the material to the collection center and schedule an appointment to bring the waste to the collection facility. If you do not live in Springfield, call your city hall. Your town should have a day for collection of hazardous wastes

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Missouri Department
of Natural Resources

Missouri Watershed Information Network (MoWIN)
Send comments to: mowin1@missouri.edu
205 Agricultural Engineering
Columbia, MO 65211
Phone: (573) 882-0085
Toll Free: (MO only): 1-877-H20-shed (426-7433)
Fax: (573) 884-5650

Page last updated August 26, 2008