This content originally appeared in NY/NJ Baykeeper’s e-newsletter, BaykeeperBrief.

Let’s revisit the problem one last time: CSOs are combined sewer outfalls that exists as a result of a municipality having a combined sanitary and stormwater sewer system. When a significant rainfall occurs, the storm sewers overflow into the sanitary sewers and both overflow into a receiving waterbody, untreated. To solve this problem, two things are necessary, a reduction of volume during rainfall events and the treatment of wastewater prior to its reaching a receiving waterbody.  This is where you can have a quantifiable impact on reducing the quantity and quality of water that reaches the combined sewer system.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that every effort to reduce the volume of water entering a CSO system is a step towards reducing the crippling costs of CSOs and flooding in NJ municipalities. Every effort counts in the end, no matter how great or small. So many issues are overwhelmingly complex and leave us feeling as though nothing we do could possibly help and we end up doing nothing out of frustration. This doesn’t have to be the case where CSOs are concerned. Like many big issues, if you break it down to what you can do, regardless of how simple it may seem, you will end up having a positive impact on the problem.

Rain Barrels are an incredibly simple, relatively inexpensive (some municipalities even offer them free to residents around Earth Day celebrations) and a great do-it-yourself project that you can do on your own. A rain barrel will not only divert rainwater from your property and local storm drains, you’ll also have a ready-made source of free water for your houseplants, garden, and lawn! You can also make the rain barrel a decorative accent by painting it to match your landscape or decorating it to stand out.

Another great, individual step you can take to reduce your stormwater impact on your community is to rethink the landscaping on your property. A rain garden uses native plants to filter rainwater before it reaches the groundwater supply, while also reducing the runoff from reaching the storm drains. Native plants are advantageous to both our air and water, requiring less water, pesticides, and fertilizers to thrive.

Some other opportunities to make an impact include: organize a community rain garden with your neighbors, voluntarily replacing paved or cement surfaces on your property with pervious materials, and participate in your community’s supplemental CSO team is you live in one of NJ’s 21 CSO communities.

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