Friday, April 29, 2011

Plant More Plants and Help Mother Earth

The Chesapeake Bay Program's "Plant More Plants" encourages consumers to celebrate Mother Earth in addition to Mom by giving the gift of a tree, shrub or perennial in lieu of cut flowers. These gifts keep growing, beautify Mom's yard, improve stormwater absorption, and contribute to cleaner waterways. A list of bay-friendly plants can be found at, a helpful resource for those living within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The canopies and root systems of plants and trees help filter stormwater runoff and minimize erosion, keeping our waterways cleaner. Flowering perennials native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed include wild bleeding heart, wild geranium, black-eyed susans, wild columbine, and mistflower. The Plant More Plants website has a comprehensive list of plants, trees and shrubs native to our area.

Natural landscaping and native plants reduce the the need for excessive yard maintenance and fertilizer use, conserves water and minimizes erosion and stormwater runoff. They grow well together and are adapted to local conditions such as weather and insects.

Select a grass that is well-adapted to our region. Cool season grasses such as bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, rough bluegrass, red fescue and perennial ryegrass are ideal for homes across Richmond.

Test your soil. You may need less fertilizer than you think. Less fertilizing means less phosphorus washed into storm drains. Homeowners can get an inexpensive and easy-to-use soil test kit by contacting their local Cooperative Extension agent.

Don't bag your clippings. It's less work and provides a natural source of nitrogen fertilizer, a double bonus! Spread them across your lawn away from the storm drain for optimum benefit. Use extra as compost.

If you must fertilize, late spring through summer is best for warm-season grasses. Fall is optimal for cool-season grass. Fertilizing at the proper time promotes root growth and results in a healthier, drought-resistant lawn. Use a phosphorus-free formula as most lawns have sufficient phosphorus for their needs. Check for "slow-release" fertilizers, which are less likely to wash off. Sweep and pick up excess fertilizer from the sidewalk, driveway, and other hard surfaces. Don't fertilize when rain is in the forecast or the ground is frozen.

Pick up after your pets. Nutrients in pet waste infiltrate stormwater runoff and make their way into creeks, rivers, and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. This nutrient loading threatens the aquatic ecosystem and poses a threat for potential fecal bacteria contamination.

Landscape plans for rain gardens are available on the Plant More Plants website. Rain gardens are shallow lawn depressions filled with plants that collect water draining from roofs and driveways. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Keep Prescription Drugs Out of Our Water

Prescription drugs can contaminate ground water and rivers. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications. When medicine is flushed down drains or put in landfills, the drugs are discharged into our surface and ground water.

Pharmaceutical contaminants can cause serious harm to fish and wildlife living near lakes and rivers. Humans can be exposed to these chemicals when they drink water drawn from a contaminated source or eat wild game or fish. The long-term human health risks from exposure to even small amounts of these chemicals is unknown.

Drug Take-Back Programs, which collect leftover prescription drugs, are the safest method for disposing of prescription drugs. Visit the Attorney General of Virginia's website for more information on upcoming take-back programs.

Home disposal has risks, but when it is done correctly, it is still a viable option.
1. Remove medication from the original container and crush the pills or add water to them to dissolve them. Then mix the medication with kitty litter or coffee grounds to make it unattractive to children or pets and unrecognizable to drug abusers who may go through your trash.
2. Place the mixture in a container with a lid or in a sealable baggie and place it in your trash.
3. When discarding original pill bottles, scratch out or remove any identification on the bottle or package.

DO NOT dispose of medications in the toilet or sink.

DO NOT give medicine to friends or family. A drug that works for you could be dangerous to someone else, and it is also potentially illegal to share medicine.

If you have teenaged children at home, keep your medications under lock and key as prescription drug abuse -- using stolen medications from home and the homes of friends for recreation -- is a leading contributor to teen drug abuse.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Meter Reading - It's All Done Electronically Now

Imagine driving by every single home, apartment and business in the city of RichmondHenrico County all the way to the Goochland county line, and parts of Hanover every single month – at 20 mph?

That’s what the 11 employees of the city of Richmond Department of Public Utilities’ Meter Reading Department do in order to electronically collect the data necessary to send out accurate water and gas bills to customers.

Years ago, it was an even more daunting task when meters were manually read by gas and water service technicians who had to walk into every yard to read the meter. With the advent of computers, a city vehicle equipped with a mobile data collector can record the readings transmitted by antennas on gas and water meters as the vehicle slowly passes the location.

As each neighborhood is scanned block by block, the computer shows the meters that were missed and each missed location is immediately revisited. If the meter still doesn’t register, a gas and water service technician visits the location the following day to investigate and fix the problem. Typical problems include old antenna batteries – they have an average lifespan of 7-10 years, the water meter well is flooded from a recent rain, or the customer has cut or damaged the wire to the antenna.

A typical day’s route might drive by 8,500 meters and take as long as 10 hours to complete. On some routes, it’s necessary to drive through alleyways behind houses or pull into driveways in order to pick up the signal.

Typical types of antennas found on water and gas meters.

A service technician loads a computer with the day's route on it into the data collector strapped to the passenger seat.

A laptop computer keeps the service technician updated with meters that failed to register and need to be read again.

Instead of a service technician in your yard, you're more likely to catch a glimpse of a city vehicle driving slowly down your street on meter-reading day.