University of Maryland Extension

Winter Water Quality Tips for the Bay

Krisztian Varsa
Winter water quality tips for the Chesapeake Bay

November 2015

When winter begins in a few weeks, it is a great time to stay indoors with family and enjoy the beauty of the season as the snow begins to fall. It is easy to forget about ways to be involved in water quality when it seems everything is frozen!

However, it is important to remember that streams continue to flow and the responsibility to maintain a healthy Bay ecosystem does not end in the winter. For example, according to the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, approximately 55% of the de-icing material used in Maryland is carried away in surface runoff[1].

So, before winter arrives, consider the following tips to improve water quality in your local streams and the Chesapeake Bay:

  • If you have exposed soil from construction or landscaping projects, seed the area with a temporary cover crop like rye (winter or cereal), wheat, or grasses to prevent erosion and enrich your soil composition when tilling in the spring.
  • Mulching leaves using your lawn mower provides a natural source of nutrients for your yard. Avoid moving leaves to the street where they will go into the storm drain and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Clear your gutters of leaves and debris to ensure your home can handle winter’s precipitation without flooding your home. Frozen leaves are very difficult to remove from a gutter.
  • As you maintain your car for winter, do not dispose of the antifreeze and windshield washer fluids in storm drains or wash spills into the street. Dispose of liquids as a household hazard waste.

And once the snow begins to fall:

  • To reduce spreading de-icer, shovel snow instead. Help your neighbor or ask for help- this is a great way to spend time outdoors in the winter with your community!
  • If you do use de-icer, it is important to use non-toxic de-icing substances. Chemical de-icers are carried away by melt water into your local waterways where they change the composition of the water and can harm resident insects, fish, and birds. Consider natural solutions such as biodegradable cat litter, sand, or fireplace ash.

Winter is a special time to enjoy Maryland’s unique water resources. With preparation and planning, you can ensure the local and Bay ecosystems will thrive in years to come.

Krisztian Varsa is a Watershed Restoration Specialist for the University of Maryland Sea Grant. He works with communities, local government, and residents to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay through watershed planning, restoration, and behavior change. Contact information: sends e-mail), 410-887-8090.


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