JeffCO H20:Please Don’t Feed the Weeds

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Sure, winter is still here and it’s cold outside.  But for those of you who have visions of lush green turf grass dancing in your heads, rest assured that a beautiful well-kept lawn is just a few months away.  It’s important to know what type of turf grass you have prior to applying any products. The most common grasses for our area are Bermuda, zoysia, centipede and St. Augustine.  These are called warm season grasses because they go dormant in cold weather.  Experts recommend applying a pre-emergent product to your lawn once per year.  If you missed this chore in the fall, mid to late February is an ideal time to eliminate weeds before they    have a chance to establish. This preemptive strike could reduce the need for herbicides later in the growing season.  One temptation is also to fertilize the lawn before it is “awake”.  Fertilizing your lawn before it is green and ready to uptake nutrients will only provide an ideal situation for weeds to grow, waste your money, and possibly provide an opportunity for rain to wash the fertilizer into local waterways.  Always wait until the temperatures are warm enough so that there is no chance of frost, and your turf grass is completely green before applying the right fertilizer for your soil’s needs.  For best results, FIRST do a soil test to determine exactly what nutrients are missing.  You can pick up a FREE soil test kit from the Jefferson County Stormwater Program Office, B-210 Courthouse, or at your local Alabama Extension Office.  The cost to mail and receive an analysis from Auburn University is $7 per sample.  Then, choose the right product for the job and ALWAYS follow label directions.

What’s Happening?

AL People Against a Littered State (PALS) Spring Cleanup – Want to make a difference in your community?  Consider organizing or participating in a volunteer roadside litter cleanup.  Last year, 1076 volunteers participated in 35 cleanups, removing 57 tons of litter and trash from roadways in unincorporated Jefferson County.  Several of these volunteers received statewide awards for their efforts.  Cleanup resources such as flyers, gloves, bags, safety t-shirts, traffic control and trash disposal are available for FREE to unincorporated Jefferson County Communities.  Call 325-8741 to learn how your community can participate!

Tree Seedling Giveaway – February 22 – Celebrate Arbor Day and stop by Linn Park from 8 am – 2 pm to select FREE tree seedlings ready for planting.  For more information, call 787-5222 or 781-0598.

 25th Annual Plant Dig – February 25 – Grab your shovels, wheeled carts, and come on out to the New Georgia Landfill between 8 am and 1 pm to select and bring home some FREE native plants, just in time for your spring gardening plans!  Call 787-5222 or 781-0598 to learn more.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

 

 

JeffCO H20:It’s Just a Drop!

oil-leaking-from-carYou notice a drop of oil on the driveway under your car.  Not a big deal, right?  Probably not a good reason to spend the time and  money to take the car into the service shop.  But then there is another drop tomorrow, and another the next day.  At the end of the week, it still doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about, just seven drops.  That is, until you factor in the other 600,000 vehicles registered in Jefferson County.  If just 10% of these cars drip one drop of oil per day, that winds up being more than 3 quarts of oil dripping on the ground every day, or more than 5 gallons by the end of the week.  That 5 gallons of oil can pollute 5 MILLION gallons of water if it is washed by rain into a creek or stream.  To put that into perspective, an Olympic sized pool contains just 660,000 gallons of water.  So yes, one drop does matter.  A first line of defense is to place a catch pan or oil absorbent pad under the car until you can get the leak fixed.  If oil or other fluid is on the driveway, use a dry material such as cat litter or oil absorbent granules which can be purchased at most big box and auto care centers to clean it up.  The dry material can be sprinkled on the spill, allowed to soak up the oil or fluid, swept up, and put into the trash.  Never hose down the driveway, since that can easily wash pollutants into a storm drain, ditch or gutter which in turn empties directly into a local creek or stream!

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

 

JeffCO H20: Beauty and the Beads

bodywash-beadsThere are literally tens of thousands of beauty products on the market that claim to make your skin feel and look smoother.  One type of product is skin cleanser that contains an exfoliant.  The premise behind these products is that they gently remove dry surface skin cells to reveal smoother skin.  Many of these products contain plastic microbeads to do the job of exfoliation.  But microbeads aren’t just prevalent in the beauty industry.  Some toothpastes contain microbeads to polish and whiten your teeth as you brush.  So what’s the big deal if these products work?  While the microbeads may do just what they are supposed to do, they can create some dire consequences once they go down your sink or shower drain.  Plastic microbeads do not disintegrate and the municipal wastewater treatment process can’t filter them from wastewater.  Instead, the microbeads remain intact, making their way to local creeks, rivers, lakes, and oceans.  Fish and other aquatic animals swallow the microbeads, which means that microbeads could wind up in your food supply.  In December 2015, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 became law, banning the manufacture of rinse off cosmetics, which includes toothpastes that contain intentionally added plastic microbeads, effective July 1, 2017.  The other good news is that there are many cleansing products available that contain exfoliants made from biodegradable ingredients such as fruit pits, nut shells, sugar, or salt.  You can even make your own with similar common ingredients.  As for toothpaste, read the label and choose one that does not contain microbeads, or consider alternatives such as toothpaste containing sustainable polishing agents like baking soda.

 

 

What’s Happening?

‘Tis the Season to Recycle – Between decorating, gifting, and feasting, the holiday season generates more waste than any other time of year.  This can offer a great opportunity to intentionally look for ways to recycle or reuse rather than discard items that you no longer need or want.

  • Check out aeconline.org for information about what and where to recycle many items.
  • Consider donating gently used items such as furniture, clothing, and housewares to a local charity for someone else to enjoy rather than just discarding them.
  • Cease the Grease – Jefferson County’s free household cooking oil and grease recycling program offers clean plastic jugs and recycling kiosks conveniently placed at 21 locations.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

JeffCO H20: Awesome Autumn!

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The mornings and nights are noticeably cooler, colorful crunchy leaves are falling from the trees, and the hours of daylight are getting shorter.  Kids are back in school, the vacation mode of summer is a thing of the past, and the activity calendar is full.  To balance out the uptick in your to do list, the growing season is winding down which means you don’t have to cut the lawn every weekend (just in time for football season)!  In spite of the change of pace in the yard which coincides with the start of cooler weather, there’s still a lot to do to take advantage of the gifts of autumn and get your landscape ready for spring.  Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Jefferson County, has assembled some easy stormwater friendly tips to help you prepare your yard for the months to come.  And as if that’s not enough, Sallie has provided some calorie burning motivation to tackle these tasks.  Taking the time to implement these strategies now will have your landscape off to a great start when spring rolls round again.

What’s Happening?

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day – October 22 – Safely dispose of old or unwanted prescription drugs at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Center Point Substation (2651 Center Point Road 35215) or McCalla Substation (5725 Eastern Valley Road 35111) from 10am until 2pm.  Visit the DEA website for more information.

Cease the Grease – Remember that Jefferson County’s free household cooking oil and grease recycling program offers clean plastic jugs and recycling kiosks conveniently placed at 20 locations throughout Jefferson County.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale – October 22-23 – This is a great opportunity to purchase native plants and trees just in time for the optimum planting season!  Visit bbgardens.org for more information.

They’re Here!!!  Stop by the Storm Water Management Department, Room B-210, Jefferson County Courthouse, to pick up your FREE 2017 Stormwater Calendar!

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

JeffCO H20: Risky Business

not-down-the-stormdrainThey are called storm drains, inlets, culverts, and gutters.  These openings, pipes, and ditches along roadways are built for the purpose of quickly removing rainwater from paved areas to prevent flooding.  Unlike the sanitary sewer system which carries wastewater from homes and businesses to a wastewater treatment plant, storm drains carry rainwater and anything else on the ground directly to the nearest creek or stream.  This water does not get treated.  The thing is, storm drains are very conveniently located, and therein lies the problem.  When working outside, it’s normal to want to be done as quickly as possible, and that includes cleaning up after completing a project.  But it is not okay to use a storm drain for the disposal of grass clippings, car wash water, vehicle fluids, or any other material associated with your project due to its potential to pollute waterways. Take the extra step to properly dispose of waste or leftover materials.  Grass clippings and other yard debris can be used to start a compost pile which will create some wonderfully rich nutrients to add to your garden.  Cars should be washed on a grassy or other pervious area so that wash water can soak into the ground rather than run off into the street, or taken to a commercial car wash which captures and recycles wash water. Used vehicle fluids are accepted at most locations that service cars.  The bottom line is that stormwater pollution affects everyone, and it takes everyone working together to keep Jefferson County waterways clean!

What’s Happening?

Brown Bag Lunch and Learn Seminar Series – Birmingham Botanical Gardens, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm – This free seminar series continues through October.  No reservations required; light refreshments provided.  For more information, visit www.bbgardens.org.

September 14 – All about Bulbs

Easy care, low maintenance, and they bring added color and texture all year long!

September 28 – Transplanting and Care

Discover the tried and true techniques of planting, propagating or moving established     plants in your yard.

October 12 – Ask the Experts

Bring your garden related questions and ask the panel.  Trees, turf, vegetables, soil, pests and disease – our experts have the answers!

October 26 – They’re So Wicked

Discover what plants are harmful or toxic, how to control them and the folklore   associated with them!

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

 

JeffCO H2O: Going Batty

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Besides being high on many people’s list of creepy animals, most of us really don’t know too much about bats.  These primarily nocturnal creatures usually live in trees, buildings, caves, and other sheltered places.  While most of us sleep, bats perform some vital functions that directly benefit humans.  Several varieties of bats feed on nectar, and serve as important pollinators for plants like bananas, mangoes and cocoa. (Think about that next time you have a piece of chocolate!)  The majority of bats feed on insects and have such voracious appetites that just one small bat can eat more than 1000 mosquitoes in one night.  Mosquitoes are not just pesky; they also can carry dangerous viruses.  So it makes sense that attracting bats to come and live in your yard can provide a chemical free, low cost way to help make a dent in the number of mosquitoes that can plague you and your family.  Purchasing or building a few bat houses and installing them on poles or on the side of your house that gets the most sun will provide an invitation for bats to come live and work in your yard.  Since they are nocturnal, chances are good that you will never even see them!  Another proactive measure to cut down on the mosquito population is to take steps to prevent mosquitoes from breeding on your property in the first place.  Walk around your yard and remove any items which can hold standing water, such as buckets or empty containers.  If there are elements in your landscape like low areas that can hold water but you cannot do anything to change them, consider using mosquito dunks on a monthly basis in these areas to kill mosquito larvae.  While these efforts will not completely eliminate mosquitoes from your yard, they will help reduce the opportunities for mosquitoes to breed and feed.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

JeffCO H2O: Insect Magnet

mosquito magnet

No, it’s not your imagination!  Some people really are insect magnets.  According to researchers, there are several factors that may contribute to the attraction.  One factor is blood type.  People with type O blood attract gnats, mosquitos, and other annoying insects far more than people with other blood types.  So if you are one of these unlucky folks, what to do?  One of the most effective approaches is applying an insect repellant to your skin and/or clothing.  There are many readily available options at most stores where personal care products are sold.  Incorporating some plants into your landscape that are natural insect repellants such as lemon balm, rosemary, and lavender also can help reduce the pest population around your home.  While plants alone can’t make your yard pest free, they can help fend off some of the aggravators.  Plus, many of these plants add wonderful aroma and color to your yard.   Another important strategy is tackling the potential for standing water around your home.  Take a quick walk around your yard and remove any containers or other items that could hold rainwater.  For features in your yard that you cannot or don’t want to change, such as a pond or bird bath, adding mosquito dunks on a monthly basis will kill mosquito larvae.  You can pick up a free mosquito dunk kit at the Birmingham Courthouse Room B-210, Bessemer Justice Center, or Center Point and Hoover satellites.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

JeffCO H2O: A Dirty Little Secret

Spring is here, and with it comes the start of the growing season.  Maybe you have plans to reconfigure your landscape, install some new plants, or build a patio or deck in your yard.  Since most improvements or changes to the landscape involve some type of land disturbance, it’s important to factor in how to prevent soil from being exposed to the elements while your project is being implemented. Soil pileSoil and the things that live in it and because of it make up a complex web of interdependency.  Without soil, most living things would cease to exist.  Wind and rain can leach away valuable nutrients that nourish plants from bare soil.   Rain also can erode soil,  creating sediment in creeks and streams which kills aquatic wildlife and fills in streambeds, causing flooding.  Soil particles attract and bond with yard chemicals, so these chemicals tag along with eroded soil and can end up in local waterways where they harm water quality, aquatic plants, and animals.  If you have dug up the soil for a small project but can’t complete it right away, you can cover the exposed soil with a tarp and secure the edges, or install a layer of mulch to help hold soil in place until the project can be completed.  If you are going to implement a project that involves digging up, filling in, or grading large amounts of soil, you may be required to obtain a land disturbance activity permit and implement some additional BMPs.  To find out if the project you are planning to implement within unincorporated Jefferson County requires a permit, call 325-8741.  If you live in an incorporated area, contact your municipality to learn about permitting requirements.

What’s Happening?

Brown Bag Lunch & Learn Seminar Series – Birmingham Botanical Gardens – This free series of seminars starting in May and running through October offers fresh and practical ideas and techniques for your landscape and garden.  No reservations are required; light refreshments provided.

 Do Dah Day – May 14 – Rhodes and Caldwell Parks, Birmingham – Go to dodahday.org for information about this fun, family friendly event.

Rain Barrel Workshop – June 18 –  Learn how to build a rain barrel or purchase one to take home, and start enjoying the benefits that storing and using rainwater can bring.  Preregistration required by June 8.  Click HERE for more information.

Step Away from the Spray! – Stop by Storm Water Management (B-210 Courthouse Annex) to pick up a free mosquito dunk kit which targets mosquito larvae growing in standing water, or invite us to speak at your next community or organization meeting in unincorporated Jefferson County.  These biologic dunks target and kill mosquito larvae in standing water, they can’t accidentally kill pollinators like bees or butterflies, and they do not harm people, pets or wildlife.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

JeffCoH2O: You’ve Got WHAT Under the Sink???

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Or maybe it’s that stuff collecting dust in the corner of the garage.  You know what we’re talking about: rusting cans of paint (did you really paint the walls that color?), fertilizer that’s so old it has hardened into a brick, drain cleaner that they don’t even make anymore, unlabeled jars of something you can’t remember saving.  Just know that you are not alone!  The average American household stores a whopping 100 pounds of household hazardous waste within the home.  The problem is that when it’s time to do some spring cleaning, many of these products should not be thrown away in the regular household trash, or may need to be handled in a specific way first.  Bringing those items that will be accepted to a Household Hazardous Waste Day event is a great option for proper disposal.  But the best long term solution is to carefully plan out what you need to accomplish a task or complete a project, buy the least toxic product available, and only purchase what is needed to get the jobUnder the sink done.  If you buy a product in a large quantity, be sure that you will be able to use it all over a set period of time.  It’s also important to pay attention to how the container should be discarded when it is empty.  In some cases, empty containers that contained chemicals such as pesticides should carefully be rinsed and the resulting diluted product properly used before the container is recycled or discarded according to package directions.

What’s Happening?

AL People Against a Littered State (PALS) Spring Cleanup – Want to make a difference in your community?  Consider organizing or participating in a volunteer roadside litter cleanup.  Last year, 1009 volunteers participated in 35 cleanups, removing 65 tons of litter and trash from roadways in unincorporated Jefferson County.  Several of these volunteers received statewide awards for their efforts.  Cleanup resources such as flyers, gloves, bags, safety t-shirts, traffic control and trash disposal are available for FREE to unincorporated Jefferson County Communities.  Call 325-8741 to learn how your community can participate.

Household Hazardous Waste Day – March 19 – McClendon Park, Legion Field – 9 am – 12 noon (or until capacity is met) – It’s estimated that Americans generate an astonishing 530,000 tons of household hazardous waste every year.  Now’s the time to root through your garage, peek under the kitchen sink, and gather up items for proper disposal at Household Hazardous Waste Day.  FREE and open to all Jefferson County residents.  Find out what items will be accepted by visiting facebook.com/JeffersonCountyAL or by calling 325-8741.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O:Fixer Upper Downer

Updating your home can be an exciting and worthwhile endeavor.  When the work is done and you are admiring the results, it’s easy not to give much thought to the impact paint, demoed materials, new construction materials, and the cleanup process might have had on the environment.  Paint, solvents, dust, adhesives, and other by-products of construction can wind up in the local stormwater drainage system when left outside uncovered and exposed to rain.  With a little research and planning, your home improvement project can have great results as well as be stormwater friendly.  Choosing materials with the least overall impact to the environment is an important part of the planning process. Some considerations include the sustainability of the material sources; the energy used in their extraction, manufacture and transportation; their potential health effects; and the disposal options available.  For example, low VOC water based paint is the least toxic formulation and requires just soap and water to clean brushes, containers and spills. Leftover water based paints can be stored in jars with tight lids for touch-ups, taken to a household hazardous waste day for disposal, or allowed to dry out (adding some clean cat litter can help) and placed in the regular trash.  In a renovation, old cabinets, doors, windows, appliances, counter tops, fixtures, and many other materials can be kept intact and donated to a charity for reuse or, if in bad shape, recycled at a location which properly disposes of these items.  If you are doing the work yourself, you can save money by looking for ways to repurpose materials by deconstructing rather than demoing them whenever possible.  Brick from a fireplace redo can be repurposed as a garden walkway, and old kitchen cabinets can have a second life in the garage as a storage unit.  During construction, it’s important for both debris and new materials stored outside to be kept covered to protect them from rain and located away from paved areas to avoid the leaching or washing of materials into the storm drainage system, since some construction materials contain metals or chemicals that must be kept out of waterways.  If you plan to hire a contractor for your remodel, be sure to ask if they use products with the least impact to the environment; plan to reduce waste by reusing or salvaging materials and recycling debris; and will properly handle, contain, and dispose of adhesives, solvents, and other construction waste.

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Plan out your next home remolding or DIY project the right way, so that you do not end up with a mess like this!

What’s Happening?

 AL People Against a Littered State (PALS) Spring Cleanup – Want to make a difference in your community?  Consider organizing or participating in a volunteer roadside litter cleanup.  Last year, 1009 volunteers participated in 35 cleanups, removing 65 tons of litter and trash from roadways in unincorporated Jefferson County.  Several of these volunteers received statewide awards for their efforts.  Cleanup resources such as flyers, gloves, bags, safety t-shirts, traffic control and trash disposal are available for FREE to unincorporated Jefferson County Communities.  Call 325-8741 to learn how your community can participate.

 Tree Seedling Giveaway – February 25 – Linn Park FREE tree seedlings ready for planting 8 am – 3 pm.  For more information, call 787-5222.

 24th Annual Plant Dig – February 27 – New Georgia Landfill – Dig up FREE plants from 8 am – 1 pm.  Call 781-0598 to learn more.  A free workshop is offered on February 20 8am -10am at Birmingham Botanical Gardens to learn how to identify and harvest the plants at the plant dig.  Visit bbgardens.org for details.

 Household Hazardous Waste Day – March 19 – Legion Field – McLendon Park – This FREE event is open to all Jefferson County residents 9 am – 12 noon or until capacity is met.  Click HERE for a list of items that will be accepted.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O: Blue: It’s the New Green!

 

Blue futureFor years, ‘green’ has been the buzz word for all environmentally friendly practices.  But recently, attention has zeroed in on water resources, and with good reason.  Environmental and economic experts predict that by 2050, more than half of the world’s population and economy will be located in areas which will experience severe long term water shortages, placing human health, food supplies, and economies at risk.  Whether you buy into these predictions or not, the western US recently experienced a drought which already has cost states, businesses and residents billions of dollars.  Here in Alabama, we are fortunate to average 54 inches of rain each year, but even we have gone through periods of drought that greatly reduced our water supply and restricted its use.

Water quantity isn’t the only issue that we are facing – water quality is an equally important matter.  That abundant rainfall we usually experience picks up pollutants from the ground and washes them into rivers, creeks, lakes and streams.  In fact, stormwater runoff is the #1 source of pollution in US waterways.  Just like water scarcity, the availability of clean fresh water is also a health and economic issue.  So it really makes sense to implement practices that protect our rivers, creeks, lakes and streams from polluted runoff and other sources of pollution.  The top two practices to consider are reducing the amount of stormwater that leaves your yard (consider planting a tree, planting-tree1installing a rain barrel, using pavers instead of concrete for walkways) and preventing pollutants from coming in contact with stormwater (like following package directions when using yard chemicals, picking up after your pet, fixing any vehicle drips).  dog-waste

 

 

Adopting these and other easy practices can help make our future blue.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O: Trim your ‘Wasteline’

While many of us might want to lose a few pounds after the holidays, reducing our other ‘wasteline’ is also a worthy goal.  The EPA estimates that the average American household increases its waste production by more than 25% during the holiday season.  This translates to an extra 1 million tons of trash per week headed to landfills.  One of the largest contributors to this trash increase is packaging.

holiday-trash

Yes, recycling packaging whenever possible helps reduce the waste that winds up in landfills, but choosing to avoid packaging altogether is the better option.  Shopping for gifts at local stores or craft fairs and purchasing food at farmers’ markets provide opportunities to choose package free or minimally packaged items.  Even some of the big online retailers offer sustainable packaging options since they don’t have to rely on the packages to market their products.

DIY Birdfeeder

 

 

Not all gifts have to come from a store.  Homemade goodies like decorated cookies and handmade gifts like a terrarium in a pretty upcycled container or a bird feeder filled with seed and suet show that you put time and thought into your gift choices.

 

 

 

Gifts also don’t have to be something wrapped up in paper and ribbon.  Experiences such as concert tickets, classes to learn a new skill, a membership that supports the arts, reservations for a weekend getaway, or a gift card from a favorite store or restaurant are a few package free options.  With a little creativity and planning, you can enjoy the holiday season while still reducing the amount of waste that your family generates.  And that is a gift in and of itself.

birdfeeder wreath

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H20: Attack of the Fatbergs

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Maybe they are not quite as dramatic as the 10-ton bus sized fatberg that threatened to shut down part of London’s sanitary sewer system last year, but Jefferson County’s sanitary sewer lines also are plagued by blockages, courtesy of cooking oil and grease that wind up in  kitchen sinks.

Jefferson County has the responsibility to collect, transport and treat sanitary sewage/wastewater generated by 480,000 residents.  Wastewater is collected from homes and businesses in a system of pipes which carries it to a wastewater treatment plant for cleaning before being released back into waterways. Unlike wastewater, stormwater runoff from yards, streets and parking lots drains to a separate system of pipes which empties directly into waterways without being treated.  Wastewater is generated from activities such as flushing toilets, taking a bath or shower, washing clothes, preparing food, and cleaning.

Day after day, year after year, this wastewater passes through Jefferson County’s 3,100 miles of sanitary sewer lines and is pumped by 170 pumping stations to 9 wastewater treatment plants.  These treatment plants have a total capacity to treat 199 million gallons of sewage per day.  There’s a lot that goes on in the treatment process, but here’s the short version:  Sewage is screened, separated, aerated, filtered, and disinfected to meet state water quality standards before the resulting treated water is finally released into local waterways.  Sanitary sewer lines are made to accept only wastewater, human waste and toilet paper.  Anything else put into the system can cause some serious problems for homeowners as well as County maintenance crews.  Personal care products such as wet wipes flushed down the toilet or cooking oil and grease poured down the sink can create blockages in the lines and cause sewage overflows.

An easy way to prevent problems is to dispose of personal care products in the trash and recycle cooking oil and grease.  Jefferson County offers a free and convenient recycling program with 20 drop off locations.  Do your part to fight the fatbergs and keep the pipes beneath your feet running smoothly!

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H20: The Fab Four

grant_park_fall_leavesEven though the growing season is winding down, there are some things that are best done in the fall to prepare for spring and all of the   lawn and garden activities that it brings.

(1) PLANT.  Fall is the best time for planting trees, shrubs, and many other plants because this is the time of year that many plants enter a period of dormancy and can focus on establishing their root systems in preparation for spring.  Planting a tree is a great choice for reducing the amount of stormwater runoff that leaves your property.  It’s estimated that during a single growing season, one large tree can absorb as much as 11,000 gallons of water from the soil and release it back into the air through its leaves.

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(2) SERVICE.  Fall is also a good time to assess, clean and service your lawnmower and other lawn and garden equipment.  This includes cleaning or replacing air filters, changing sparkplugs, changing and recycling oil, properly emptying fuel, and having blades sharpened and balanced.  Thoroughly clean, sharpen and oil hand tools before storing for the winter.

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(3)  TEST.  Before applying any fertilizers or lime to your landscape, first test the soil in your yard.  The soil test results will help you purchase and apply just the right product in the correct amount.

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(4)  MULCH.  One of the best things that you can do for your landscape any time of the year is to apply organic mulch to garden beds.  Some of the benefits organic mulch will bring to your landscape include stabilizing soil temperature, retaining soil moisture, adding nutrients, suppressing weed growth, and preventing soil erosion.  And during the month of October, there is a ready source of organic mulch at hand.  All of those leaves falling into your yard, crunched up and spread on garden beds or added to a compost pile, will decompose and deliver a host of benefits that your landscape will reap in the spring.

mulching leaves

What’s Happening?

 Birmingham Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale – October 17 – 18 – Shop for herbs, sustainable trees, fall annuals, shrubs, natives, perennials and more!  Call 414.3950 or visit http://www.bbgardens.org for details.

Community Awareness Day – October 22, 9am to 2 pm, The Summit – Hosted by Jefferson County EMA, exhibitors will be set up in the shopping center’s parking lot to answer your questions about preparing for extreme weather and other emergency situations. Jefferson County Storm Water Management staff will be there to distribute mosquito prevention kits and other resources.  Call 254.2039 for more information.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H20:Taking a 180 on Stormwater

For thousands of years, stormwater has been viewed as something that needs to be carried away from inhabited areas as quickly as possible to prevent potential hazards such as flooding. While most ancient drainage systems handled both waste and stormwater, the first known drainage system built to handle just stormwater was constructed by the Indus civilization which thrived in the Indus River Valley from about 2300 to 1300 BC.
Fast forward to modern times. While modern stormwater drainage systems are effective in removing stormwater from paved areas and carrying this untreated water directly to local waterways, there are some unintended consequences. Many US communities have experienced a significant increase in development which has placed a disproportionate burden on existing infrastructure. This growth also means that the amount of impervious surfaces such as paved areas and roofs have increased as well, disrupting one of the natural functions of land which is to allow stormwater to soak into the ground. This important function recharges groundwater and replenishes streams during dry periods. This reduction in opportunities for stormwater to infiltrate has resulted in a dramatic increase in the amount and velocity of runoff traveling through the storm drainage system and entering rivers, creeks, lakes, streams and oceans. Since anything on the ground (oil, grease, yard chemicals, pet waste, litter, etc.) can be picked up by stormwater and washed into the stormwater drainage system, stormwater pollution has become the number one pollutant in our nation’s waterways.
Many older communities also are experiencing costly issues with deteriorating and insufficient infrastructure to manage the increasing stormwater demands placed upon it. These economic realities as well as federal water quality guidelines have encouraged them to rethink the old model of getting rid of stormwater as quickly as possible and explore some new approaches. And faced with changing weather patterns which continue to bring more severe storms, heat, floods, and drought, states, regions, and communities are looking for ways to more efficiently manage stormwater and utilize it as a resource rather than a liability.

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One approach is introducing green infrastructure into the built environment. Unlike traditional gray infrastructure that consists of concrete and metal systems that carry stormwater away, green infrastructure minimizes impervious areas to keep and treat stormwater on site by providing it with opportunities to soak into the ground or by using containment techniques such as cisterns or rain barrels to capture and store it for later use. Green infrastructure is a component of an approach to land development or re-development called Low Impact Development (LID) which incorporates ways to manage stormwater on site into project designs. Green infrastructure reduces the amount of polluted runoff entering waterways by dealing with it where it occurs. It also allows the infrastructure to have more capacity to handle stormwater, thereby reducing flooding issues. Some examples of how these principles are being used by communities and developers include: removing curbs and gutters from roadways to allow rainwater to
soak into vegetated areas along the roads; replacing traditional pavement with permeable options so that stormwater can soak through and into the ground rather than run off; creating rain gardens and vegetated areas to slow down, filter, and infiltrate stormwater; planting trees to absorb stormwater, improve air quality, and reduce heat islands in urban areas; installing cisterns and rain barrels to capture rainwater flowing off structures so that it can be stored and used for irrigation at a later time; planting green roofs on structures to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff leaving the roofs as well as reduce heating and cooling costs. While it is difficult to quantify improvements that green infrastructure contributes to community quality of life, studies have shown that there is a definite positive economic value to implementing green infrastructure practices.
Many green infrastructure concepts can be implemented on a smaller scale for very little cost or no cost at your home. Since stormwater pollution comes from every home, street, business, and community throughout our area, every little bit of prevention that is implemented can help make a positive difference in our local waterways. Here are a few ideas to tap into the value of stormwater at your home using green infrastructure:

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 Install a rain barrel and save money by using the collected water to irrigate your yard or garden. Just ½ inch of rain can fill a typical 50 – 55 gallon rain barrel. (Jefferson County averages 54 inches of rain each year, so do the math!)

Rain garden
 Create a rain garden in a low area of your yard and install water loving native plants like aster, black eyed Susan, and coneflower. This is a relatively inexpensive yet highly efficient feature which can absorb up to 40% more rain water than turfgrass alone.
 Plant a tree. One large tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water per day, reduce home heating and cooling costs, and remove 13 pounds of carbon from the air each year.
 Allow areas of your yard to remain natural, and use pavers or gravel for walkways and driveways. All of these options serve to slow the flow of stormwater, spread it out, and allow it to soak into the ground rather than leaving your property.
 Add native plants to your landscape to attract birds and other wildlife. Not only will these areas be more efficient at absorbing stormwater; they also will be more resilient to pests, disease and drought, and the birds you attract will provide free bug control while reducing the need for pesticides and other yard chemicals.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H20: The Invaders

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They start out small, often unnoticed: a little leaf here, a vine tendril there.  But before you know it, your landscape is being overtaken by invasive plants.  Kudzu, privet, honeysuckle – these are just a few plants labeled as invasive that thrive in Alabama.  So what’s the big deal?  An invasive is a nonnative plant which spreads and threatens the survival of native plants and crops, or affects human health.  (Not all nonnative plants are invasive – think cotton and peanuts.) Alabama provides a long growing season and mild winter which help these invaders thrive.  In fact, invasives are such a serious threat to native ecosystems that there are federal, state, and local agencies devoted to controlling or eliminating these pests.  For home landscapes, the best solution is to be on the lookout for invaders and deal with them as quickly as possible.  Chemical free solutions include digging up the plant, root and all, putting it in a plastic bag, and placing it in the trash – or covering the affected area with a layer of cardboard topped with mulch to prevent the plant from getting any sunlight. If the invader already has become established and is spreading, carefully and selectively applying an herbicide such as glyphosate, which is absorbed by the plant rather than lingering in the soil, can help eliminate the problem while having minimal potential impact on water quality if you carefully and accurately follow package directions.  Remember to avoid applying yard chemicals just before or during a rain event and use only what you need.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O: Smorgasbird

One of the fastest growing hobbies in the US is bird watching.  More than 46 million people consider themselves to be bird watchers and about 60 million people regularly feed birds in order to attract them to their yards.  While many varieties of bird seed blends are readily available, the cost can quickly add up.  Rather than just purchasing seed to fill your bird feeders, another option is to install and grow a variety of plants, trees and grasses in your yard now so that they will produce berries and seeds that birds like to eat.  Many of these are native to our region, and generally are more drought and pest resistant, which can help reduce the need for supplemental watering and the use of yard chemicals.

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Inviting birds to become frequent visitors to your yard has other benefits as well.  Most songbirds primarily eat insects and spiders during the spring and summer months, which can help reduce the insect pest population in your yard without the use of insecticides. w1_aud0713_jad52

It’s also important to provide a water source to encourage birds to stick around.  A birdbath with a gently sloping shallow bowl (which birds prefer) is a simple and easy to install water feature to add to your yard, but any shallow, wide container or similar vessel lined with some clean gravel or rocks, filled with a few inches of water, and placed on the ground can work just as well.  Then, just sit back and enjoy your visitors!

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O:Marvelous Mulch

Yes, mulch really is marvelous!  But how is it different from compost?  Compost is any kind of decayed organic material – vegetable scraps, leaves, grass clippings, or similar material.  Finished compost is brown and crumbly, smells earthy, and is packed with rich nutrients that plants need to grow.  Compost is best used by working it into the soil so that plants can absorb these nutrients through their roots.  On the other hand, mulch is organic material that is spread on top of the soil as a protective layer.  The main reason for using mulch is to minimize gardening chores, and who can argue with that?  That’s why it’s pretty much impossible to say enough good things about mulch.  Even if you never were good at math, it’s easy to see that when you add up the benefits of mulch, they greatly outweigh the cost and effort to install and maintain it.  A fresh layer of mulch around plants, bushes and trees creates an instant facelift for your landscape.  (Fresh mulch = enhanced curb appeal.)  Maintaining a layer of mulch about 3 inches deep creates a protective layer which stabilizes soil, reduces soil erosion,  and suppresses weed growth. (Fewer weeds = less need for weed killer.)  Mulch also helps soil absorb water more efficiently and traps in moisture.  (More moisture = less frequent watering.)  Mulch prevents harmful fluctuations in soil temperature, promotes better root systems, and assists plants in resisting pests and disease.  (More resilient plants = healthier, lusher landscape.)  Mulch promotes the growth of beneficial soil microorganisms which gradually decompose the mulch and help to enrich the soil from the top down.  (Richer soil = less need for fertilizer.)  And most importantly, mulch reduces yard work.  (Less work = more free time!)  Bottom line:  including mulch in your landscape truly provides one of the greatest returns on your investment than nearly any other landscape element.

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What’s Happening?

Do Dah Day, May 16 – Caldwell and Rhodes Parks, Birmingham.  Come on out to Birmingham’s oldest event and support local pet charities.  Storm Water Management staff will be there again with the ever popular poo toss game.  We will be distributing pet waste bags and flyers to reinforce the importance of picking up after your pet.

Brown Bag Seminar Series – Birmingham Botanical Gardens, 2612 Lane Park Road, Birmingham.  This free seminar series offers practical landscape design, fresh lawn and garden ideas, and proper planting and maintenance techniques.   No reservations are required; light refreshments are provided. Visit bbgardens.org to learn more.

 

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O: Go Vertical!

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Need some ideas to perk up your deck, porch or patio area?  Try looking UP rather than out and consider installing a vertical garden.  Vertical gardens have increased in popularity over the past few years for many reasons.  The obvious is that they are a great way to create a big impact in a small outdoor space since this concept makes it possible to really define an area with thoughtfully chosen placement, plants and containers.  There currently are many products available which have built in planters, pouches, or holders where plants or pots can be placed to make creating a vertical garden easy.  Alternatively, ideas for designing and constructing your own vertical garden using plastic soda bottles, jars, cans, garden fencing, gutters, hanging shoe organizers, or pallets are readily available online.

pallet garden

The benefits of vertical gardening go way beyond saving space.  Vertical gardens can be configured to maximize water use by allowing water to drip downward from one level to the next.  Any water that is not utilized by the plants on the lowest tier can be collected at the base of the frame or wall and reused as needed, eliminating any potential runoff.  Also, vertical gardens are usually more pest resistant than traditional container gardens because most insects will not make the upward trek to munch on them!  Strategically placed, a vertical garden can assist with home energy costs because it provides shade and can serve as a natural insulator for the external walls of your home.  Since they are space and water efficient, a vertical garden also can be installed inside your home where it can greatly improve interior air quality while providing a dramatic focal point for any room.

vertical garden_pallet

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H20:Turn Up the Heat!

Do you have a garden in a sunny area of your yard that is plagued with weeds, fungi, or other pests that infect your plants?  There are many weed killers out there for treating a variety of lawn and garden challenges.  And used properly, they can be very helpful.  But it’s also possible to avoid using yard chemicals altogether and still get rid of these issues by turning up the heat in your yard.  This process is called soil solarization, and the only requirements are water, a clear plastic tarp, and some time.  Preparing your yard or garden for soil solarization will take a little bit more effort than using a short cut with weed killers, but the end results will have some extra benefits that just might make it worthwhile.

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The first step in the process is to create as clean a slate as possible:  remove any plants and debris from the area, then till, level and smooth the soil surface.  Next, water the soil until it is very saturated, about 12” deep into the soil.  Cover the targeted area with a heavy duty clear plastic tarp, and secure the edges with soil or rocks to keep it in place.  The clear plastic and water will concentrate the sun’s energy and magnify its effect, raising the temperature under the plastic and trapping heat in the soil.  The temperature under the tarp can rise to as high as 140⁰ depending upon the time of the year you choose to try this process.  During spring and fall, it will take about 6-8 weeks to achieve the desired results.  In the heat of summer, the process will be shortened to 4-6 weeks.  The sustained high temperature under the tarp is enough to kill weed seeds, insects, and many harmful fungi and bacteria.  Soil solarization also speeds up the breakdown of organic material in the soil and promotes the repopulation of worms, bacteria, and other helpful organisms.  The end result is that not only will you have eliminated many of the pests that had been hampering your plants, but also your soil will be in better shape than before you began.  After allowing the process to work for the recommended amount of time, carefully remove the plastic to keep it from shredding, and get ready to start planting!

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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