Construct A Rain Barrel at Mobile Workshop

Future rain barrels

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, in partnership with the Coastal Alabama Clean Water Partnership and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, will hold a rain barrel workshop from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N, in Mobile.

Workshop participants will learn about important water quality and conservation issues and practical measures they can take to reduce their impact on coastal Alabama’s water resources. During the workshop, they will construct a rain barrel that will allow them to harvest rainwater for gardens, landscaping or other uses. They also will learn how to install the rain barrels at their homes.

To attend the workshop, interested individuals must pre-register with the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center office by Wednesday, Oct. 17.The registration fee for the workshop is $40 and includes all materials required to construct a rain barrel.

For more information or to register, contact Christian Miller, extension specialist with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant and the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center, at 251-438-5690 or

More information about rain barrels and water conservation.


Something Big: Stormwater Runoff

 Today we are talking about stormwater runoff and pollution because the cities around Mobile Bay suffer from litter and water pollution problems in a big way. Stormwater pollution is such a large issue because it is what we call “non-point source pollution.” This means that pollution comes from numerous discrete sources, making it difficult to quantify and difficult to eliminate. In addition to explaining what stormwater runoff is and what causes it, we will also share ways that you can make a difference stormwater-wise.

What is stormwater runoff? 

Stormwater runoff occurs when rain from storms flows over the ground. Impervious (non-absorbant) surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground. Litter and contaminants that have been left on the ground are swept along with rainwater into our storm drains. Stormdrains direct rainwater to the nearest waterway; this water does not go to a treatment plants or pump station. Eventually, the pollution finds its way into our many waterways, Mobile Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Simply put, stormwater runoff is important because it impacts our waterways and environments in many ways. Everything that lives in the water, feeds from the water, or drinks the water can be impacted by stormwater pollution. This adversely impacts our health, the environment, and our economy.

Problematic Pollutants 

–  Litter on roads and in parking lots and parks 

–  Cigarette butts

–  Untreated wastewater from failed septic systems

–  Oil and antifreeze from leaking cars

–  Garden and lawn chemicals

–  Household cleaners and chemicals that are disposed of improperly

–  Construction site runoff

–  Pet and livestock waste

–  Mardi Gras parade debris

Who causes stormwater pollution? 

We all do. Stormwater pollution is the result of industrial activity, our personal everyday actions, and our local land use policies. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to make a difference regarding our stormwater quality.

Some Things You Can Do

1. Pick up pet waste and deposit it in garbage cans, flush it down the toilet, or bury it in your yard. 

2. Wash your car in the yard instead of the driveway, or go to a carwash that properly handles its wastewater.

3. Divert down spouts to grassy areas instead of driveways and sidewalks. May we also suggest a rain garden?

4. Use natural fertilizers on your lawn and garden only when necessary and always apply according to package instructions.

5. Don’t put anything down a storm drain – Remember, storm drains lead directly to our Bay!

6. Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down.

7. Use native plants in your garden – they require less watering and maintenance. 

8. Help pick up litter and dispose of it properly. 

9. Harvest rainwater for watering your plants through the use of a rain barrel. 

10. Participate in clean-ups or stormwater education programs.

Great American Clean-Up

This week is the Great American Clean-Up, an effort of the part of Keep America Beautiful and countless other organizations to keep our communities and our environment clean and healthy. In Mobile, AL, you can participate in a clean-up event TOMORROW (Saturday, April 28th) from 8am-noon at the Springdale Mall on Airport Blvd.  Join the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Partners for Environmental Progress, Keep Mobile Beautiful, Mobile Baykeeper, and others this Saturday to clean up the Dog River watershed. Meet at Burlington Coat Factory at the Springdale Mall. Register as a team or as individuals through HandsOn South Alabama or by calling Keep Mobile Beautiful at (251) 208-6029.

Water Wednesday: 10 Ways to Conserve at Home

Usually we talk about ways to keep our water clean on Water Wednesday. This week we are talking about 10 super simple ways to cut down on your water use at home.

(1) Fix leaky faucets (and toilets!).

(2) Take shorter showers, or try showering one time less a week.

{Reducing a 10-minute shower to 5 minutes saves 12.5 gallons of water if the showerhead has a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute–even more if the showerhead has a higher flow rate.}

(3) Collect rainwater to water your flowers or houseplants. You can do this with a rain barrel or on a smaller scale with buckets.

(4) Turn off the water when brushing your teeth, shaving, or lathering your hands.

{Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save 25 gallons a month.}

(5) Empty your water bottle or glass in a houseplant instead of pouring it down the drain.

(6) Load up the dishwasher instead of hand-washing. Also, when it comes time to replace your dishwasher, invest in a high-efficiency model. This will save water, energy, and money.

{When comparing only the water used inside the dishwasher, handwashing uses an average of 23 gallons more per session (Stamminger, et. al., 2004, European Comparison of Cleaning Dishes by Hand, Univ. of Bonn) or up to five times that of a new dishwasher.}

(7) When washing dishes, turn off the tap when you’re not using it.

(8) Don’t run the garbage disposal; compost food waste instead.

(9) Only run the washing machine when you have a full load.

{Conventional washers built before 2011 typically use about 40 gallons per load; resource-efficient washers may use as little as 15 gallons per load.}

(10) Insulate water pipes so that hot water heats up faster, reducing the time the tap has to run.

These are only a few ways to save water at home. How else do you conserve water?

For more ideas, check out these resources:

Residential Water-Saving Tips, from the Alliance for Water Efficiency

100 Ways to Conserve, from

25 Ways to Conserve Water in the Home and Yard, by

Water Wednesday: Clean Counters, Clean Water

25 Green Household Cleaning Recipes

Who doesn’t dread cleaning day?  There are a hundred things I would rather do than clean, but alas it must be done.  However, sometimes when we clean we also pollute our waterways.  When we clean our sinks, toilets, showers and tubs, all the chemicals and industrial cleaners have the potential to end up in our waterways. I think there is an assumption that to really get something clean you need to use harsh chemicals and antibacterial products. In fact, there are many household items that you already have in your home that are much less toxic and are still great cleaning agents.

It seems that nowadays there are hundreds of products to clean different parts of your house.  There’s a cleaner for your oven, a separate one for your countertops, a special formula for your sinks and showers, and yet another for your toilets.   The list goes on and on and your cupboard gets fuller and fuller.   But did you know that you can get all of that cleaning with just a few items?   If you have some baking soda, vinegar/lemon juice and tea tree oil you have all the fixings for a clean, healthy home.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a wonderful multipurpose cleaner.   You can use it to hand wash dishes by mixing a tablespoon of baking soda with the juice of ½ a lemon in a sink of hot water.   You can use it to clean your sinks and counter tops (it can remove stains and polish granite, too).   It can banish smells in trash cans and refrigerators as well help clean your laundry.   It can clean your toilets when mixed with a little white vinegar.  One of our staff members even made an air freshener by placing baking soda in a jar and adding her favorite essential oil.   A great book called Baking Soda by Diane Sutherland is a great resource for ways to use baking soda.   You can Google search cleaning with baking soda to find the best recipes to suit your cleaning needs.

Vinegar/Lemon Juice

The high acidity levels in vinegar and lemon juice make them effective cleaners and antiseptics.   Vinegar has dozens of household and garden uses including cleaning countertops, windows and bathroom surfaces.   You can also add vinegar to your wash to boost cleaning or remove odors by leaving vinegar out in your kitchen overnight.  If you are concerned about your home smelling like vinegar, don’t worry.   The smell should dissipate within and hour or you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your vinegar/water solution. Also, one Baykeeper has found that apple cider vinegar is equally effective for banishing odors without the harsh small of white vinegar.

Lemon juice can also be used to clean countertops and bathroom fixtures.  You can actually cut a lemon in half and rub it on your shower handle to remove hard water spots (if you do this, please test in a small area….if you have a special finish it may alter the appearance).  Again, you can find dozens of websites that will give you more details and recipes for vinegar and lemon cleaners.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a wonderful anti-fungal/antiseptic cleaner.   It got me through many years of potty training with my kids.   But it does so much more than disinfect clothes.   Tea tree oil mixed in a spray bottle of water will get rid of mold and must smells.  It will also freshen and inhibit mold in your laundry.   A spray mixture of tea tree oil, water and a little liquid soap will disinfect your counter tops.  It is the little oil that has many purposes.

So there you have it…three household items for your cleaning cupboard rather than a collection of harsh chemicals!   And if making cleaners isn’t your thing, there are also a number of environmentally friendly multi-purpose cleaners like Seventh Generation, Bon Ami and Method.  Many of these (and other earth friendly) products can be found at your local health food store, as well as Target and Winn-Dixie.

Check out more ideas for Earth-friendly cleaning on our Make-A-Difference Month Pinterest Board!

Good luck with your water-friendly cleaning.  I don’t know about you, but I am actually a little excited about cleaning my counters tonight!

Wednesday: Lawn Care

Today we are talking about fertilizer, specifically fertilizer used on lawns and in gardens. We are talking about this on Water Wednesday because anything you put in your yard has the potential to end up in rivers, lakes, and waterways when it rains. In particular, the concern about fertilizer is excess nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.


These nutrients are essential to plant growth and health, but in excess they can cause environmental problems, the biggest ones being algae blooms and eutrophication. Essentially, when excess nutrients reach a waterway, algae populations can rapidly boom and bust. The “bust” is problematic because when the algae die off and decompose the oxygen in the water is consumed and depleted. Waters that are low in oxygen are unable to support healthy populations of other species. You can read more about eutrophication here.

The main sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are yard waste and leaves, and fertilizer and other soil amendments.

Yard Waste

Yard waste and leaves that fall or are blown into the streets end up in storm drains, and eventually end up in our waterways. Instead of putting yard waste in the street, you can collect it for other uses in your yard. Leaves and lawn clippings make excellent additions to a compost pile, or can be used as mulch. Also, many cities offer free or low-cost yard waste pick up.


As previously mentioned, the fertilizer nutrients that are not taken up by plants and grass can end up in out waterways after a rain event. There are several alternatives to traditional fertilizing that can make your lawn just as lush and healthy, among them: leave clippings on the lawn, use time-release fertilizer, limit herbicide/pesticide use. See below for some great resources for environmentally-friendly lawn care.

Resources for Organic/Low-Impact Lawn Care:

Rain Garden

Another option is to survey your yard to figure out where most water runs off and plant a garden there. These plants will take up excess nutrients before they leave your yard and enter the stormwater system. A rain garden reduces the amount of water running off your lawn, and improves water quality, therefore limiting the impact on your local waterways.


This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning compost. Check back tomorrow for Part 1 of a guide on how to start your own compost pile. In addition to keeping nutrient-rich food waste out of the landfill, composting also gets a second use out of food scraps and yard waste. Compost and mulch are great additions to any garden and can reduce your use of traditional fertilizers, and even reduce the need to buy potting soil.


Remember, everything you put on your lawn can end up in your water. It’s also important to remember not to overwater. Water early in the morning (between 4am and 8am) or later in the evening. Keep an eye on the sprinkler and make sure it doesn’t run all day or during the heat of the day. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, make sure to override it so it doesn’t go off when it is rainy. You can also install a rainwater collection system for your yard!

How are you making a difference in your lawn and garden care?

P.S. Click here for an update from last week about the two Baykeepers who challenged themselves to only wash their hair with baking soda for a week.


Wednesday: Being Green While Staying Clean

Today is all about how you can help take care of our most precious resource, water. And what better way to keep it safe than by paying attention to how you treat it during bath time?

Body Soap

  • Reduce packaging. First, ix-nay on the ody wash-bay. Switch to bar soap instead. Bars of soap require less packaging and plastic than body wash, reducing your use of plastic. But make sure to check the packaging of the bars to avoid extra layers. A paper covering or small cardboard box is all you really need and they are biodegradable.
  • Reduce carbon footprint and water. Bars also contain less water than liquid body wash, so you’re reducing the carbon footprint it takes to make the soap. Look for locally made soaps to reduce the fossil fuels it takes to get the soap to markets; click here to see shops around Alabama. Plus, you would be supporting small businesses in your community. Sounds like a win-win to me!
  • Avoid chemicals. By choosing soaps with fewer ingredients and chemicals, you can reduce putting potentially harmful substances in the water, and can reduce your own exposure to them as well.


    • Chemicals. Besides the same plastic packaging we talked about with liquid body washes, many shampoos contain a long list of chemical additives. Remember that anything you use in the shower or the sink ends up in the water. Many chemicals persist in the environment, meaning they don’t break down naturally, or they break down into other harmful chemicals. We recommend reading labels carefully to avoid some of the stronger chemicals and looking for natural or organic alternative products.


  • Less is More. Another option is to reduce the number of weekly shampoo washes. Shampooing too often can dry out your hair and can actually make it more greasy. Many hairstylists and dermatologists recommend that you shampoo no more than 2 or 3 times a week. Read more about it here. Of course, there is also the “no ‘poo” — shampoo-free — approach. Despite its unfortunate name, “no ‘poo” has become a staple for beauty buffs and environmentalists alike. It helps get rid of frizz, can help tame curls, and can even help with a dry, flaky scalp. You can find easy instructions for leaving shampoo and conditioner behind here.


Two Baykeepers are taking the baking soda challenge this week–we are using baking soda in place of our regular shampoo. We’ll report back next Wednesday with our results. How are you getting environmentally friendly in your shower? Comment below about your experience with new body care products or methods or take a picture of your your fancy new bars of soap and send it for a chance to win a prize!

UPDATE (4/11)

One week with baking soda as our shampoo, and here’s what the Baykeepers have to say:

“I love the difference I already see with my hair! It is very soft and my curls aren’t so tight anymore, which is what I was hoping for. An added bonus was that my hair turned out to be less greasy! I usually have to start using shampoo by the second day but it wasn’t even greasy when I washed it on the third day.”

“My hair feels so clean and soft! I am definitely keeping the baking soda in the shower from now on.”

So what do you think? Are you up to the baking soda challenge?