5 Easy Ways to Take Care of Our Waterways

Here are a few steps you can take to help protect the aquatic ecosystems of Utah and beyond.

The water that goes into storm drains gets cleaned before it enters streams and rivers, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Here are a few steps you can take to help protect the aquatic ecosystems of Utah and beyond.

1. Fertilize the grass, not the gutter

If you fertilize your lawn shortly before it rains, your hard-earned dollars aren’t the only thing going down the drain.

When the nutrients in fertilizers enter waterways, they keep acting as fertilizers. They spur the growth of algae, which soon covers the surface of the affected body of water. Plants that live under the surface can no longer get sunlight, so they die.

Not only do the dying plants cease oxygenating the water, but the decomposition process uses up oxygen too. When there isn’t enough oxygen to sustain fish and other lifeforms, they too suffocate.

To avoid unwittingly suffocating fish, check the weather forecast and avoid fertilizing the day before or the day after rain. Also take care not to over-do the application – use only what’s needed.

2. Install a rain barrel

Fertilizers and other contaminants enter the water through runoff: rain water that isn’t absorbed into the ground and instead flows across it, picking up chemicals and carrying them into streams and other bodies of water.

Installing a rain barrel under your downspout helps collect water to keep it from becoming runoff. You’ll also have a store of water you can use to water your garden when it’s dry – a win-win for you and the fish!

Is the practice of harvesting rainwater legal in Utah?

Rainwater harvesting is now legal in the state of Utah as of May 11, 2010. Senate Bill 32 was approved in the 2010 session that provides for the collection and use of precipitation without obtaining a water right after registering on the Division of Water Rights web page ( There is no charge for registration. To register to harvest rainwater, click here.

3. Go permeable

Installing permeable paving is another great way to minimize runoff. If you’re considering paving or repaving an area, opt for permeable materials rather than concrete or asphalt.

Permeable paving allows water to run through it and into the ground below. Instead of fast-tracking containments to waterways, this rain water will replenish the supply of groundwater, maintaining the integrity of the water cycle.

4. Rainscape

Other design decisions you make about your yard will also impact how well it absorbs rain water.

  • Swales, or depressions in the ground, can stop water running toward drains and instead give it a chance to sink into the earth
  • Mulching garden beds regularly counters compaction to help absorption, and mulching with grass clippings instead of washing them down the drain is even better
  • Planting native plants with fibrous roots helps increase the amount of water your garden will absorb
  • Aerating your lawn each year will help it absorb more water

5. Go rogue

People in the US are sort of obsessed with maintaining flawless grassy expanses around our houses. In reality, the importance of having and maintaining a perfect lawn is more of a national myth than anything else. Cultivating a grass monoculture and mowing it regularly isn’t good for the environment, and it’s generally fairly time-consuming for the person doing it too.

Instead of buying into the myth, consider converting more of your yard to garden or even meadow. It’s better for biodiversity, it doesn’t’ require fertilizers, it takes less time and it can be just as beautiful. Liberating for the homeowner and eco-friendly, this is one rebellious move that really is for the greater good.

Salt Lake Engineering helps to design, build, supervise, operate and maintain projects and systems in Salt Lake City. To learn more about protecting our waterways, check out