What You Can Do to Protect Water Quality

Our everyday activities can impact stormwater quality in positive or negative ways. It’s up to all of us to do our parts. Learn what you can do to get involved and help out around your home, yard, or business to help improve water quality in our local streams, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Page updated on Aug 26, 2021 at 11:55 AM

Get Involved

  • Be our eyes and ears and report illegal dumping in storm drains, streams, or open spaces online
  • Participate in stream and neighborhood cleanups, local stream restoration, invasive species removal, and planting projects
  • Start a storm drain marking program in your neighborhood
  • Join or support a local environmental group or "friends of" group
  • Educate your family, friends, and neighbors about the importance of protecting local water resources

Around Your Home or Business

  • Properly use and dispose of household chemicals.  The City’s  Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Collection (HHW) program on Colvin Street helps residents with proper disposal.
  • Keep our City litter free.  Any litter you drop in the street, on the sidewalk, or in a park will likely end up in a local stream.  Besides looking bad, it harms the environment and wildlife.
  • Install rain barrels to collect rain water that runs off your roof.  
  • Wash paintbrushes, mops, or other cleaning tools indoors to keep dirty water and harmful chemicals out of our streams.  Never wash tools in the street or into a storm drain.
  • Wash your car on the grass where the soil absorbs the water, which can help nourish the lawn.  Cleaning your car near the gutter or storm drain also means polluting streams with detergents and other chemicals.
  • Keep your car well maintained and fix leaks as soon as possible.  Your car is a source of stormwater pollution!  Small amounts of tire and brake pad wear off, and small oil leaks wash into the stream when it rains.  
  • Take used oil and car fluids to a local service station for recycling or take advantage of the City's  Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Recycling program.
  • Visit the City's  Resource Recovery & Recycling page for more ideas of things you can do around your  home or at  work

Around Your Yard 

  • Test your soil.  Know how much fertilizer to use and don’t over fertilize. Or better yet, don’t fertilize at all if it isn’t necessary!  
  • Never fertilize or use pesticides if it is going to rain within 24 hours.  Fertilizers and pesticides can end up in streams and harm aquatic life.
  • Select slow release or insoluble fertilizers, and always read and follow the instructions on the fertilizer and pesticide packaging. 
  • Ask your lawn care company to fertilize with care.
  • Don't blow grass clippings and leaves in the street or down a storm drain, mulch grass clippings instead.  Leaves and lawn clippings washed into the streams decompose, creating food for algae in the water.  
  • Plant a tree.  Trees use nutrients and can prevent those nutrients from entering our streams.  Their roots also hold the soil in place, which helps prevent erosion.
  • Landscape using plants on slopes, especially if you live near stream banks, to help prevent erosion.
  • Don't connect downspouts to the storm sewer system or onto paved surfaces.  Instead, allow your downspouts to drain onto your lawn. 
  • When watering, avoid watering onto paved surfaces.
  • Use plants that are native to the area and more resistant to drought.
  • Use a rain barrel to capture roof runoff during storms and use that water to irrigate your lawn.  Please visit the rain barrel page to learn more about rain barrels. 

Pet Care

Dog and Girl

Did you know that many of Alexandria's streams exceed Virginia's standards for fecal coliform bacteria? Fecal coliform bacteria are present in the intestinal tracts of all warm-blooded animals and are an indicator that a potential health risk exists for individuals exposed to the water.

Pet waste is a significant source of fecal coliform bacteria in Alexandria. When pet waste is not properly disposed of, it can wash into nearby streams or be carried by runoff into storm drains. Stormwater is not treated. Instead, storm drains go directly into our local streams and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

The nutrients and organic matter in pet waste can also cause significant water quality degradation. Excess nutrients can cause algae blooms that block sunlight and kill underwater vegetation. Decaying pet waste uses up dissolved oxygen in the water that fish and other aquatic species rely on to live. 

Simple Ways to Love Your Pet and the Environment! 

  • Always clean up after your pet - Dog waste in parks, on the street and even in your garden can all end up polluting our streams.  It may not be the most pleasant chore, but it can prevent water pollution and it's the law.  Failure to do so on public property is subject to a $100 fine (City Code§5- 7 -46).
  • Dispose of pet waste properly - Bag it and place pet waste in the trash.
  • Never dispose of pet waste in a storm drain - These drains lead directly to local waterways.
  • Encourage other pet owners to be responsible - It is an important part of the responsibility of owning a pet.  We all suffer the consequences of ignoring irresponsible pet owners.

The City has several managed dog exercise areas.  For more information or locations, please contact the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities or visit the  Dogs in Alexandria webpage.

Please visit the Northern Virginia Clean Water Partners page to learn more. If we each do a little, it can add up to a lot.  

Youth Resources

Download the field guide (114 pages) and the field journal (114 pages), both developed by and used with permission by Fairfax County, Virginia. The field guide includes educational information on plants and animals and the field journal includes activities to help youth learn more about stormwater and the environment as well as space for their unique observations. Please contact the Watershed Education and Outreach section at watersheds@fairfaxcounty.gov or call 703-324-5500, TTY 711 for more information.

Visit the One Water Partnership webpage for fun, family-focused activities about water resources.