Residential Tips for Clean Water


Pick up pet waste
Picking up after your pet, whether at home or around town, can help to prevent significant water pollution. When pet waste is left on our streets and lawns, it can be picked up by stormwater runoff and washed into storm drains and nearby waterbodies. Since storm drains in Burlington do not connect to treatment facilities, untreated animal feces that enters the storm drain system washes into our streams, causing significant water pollution and health issues.
  • Pet waste can be flushed down the toilet into the sanitary sewer system, which connects to a treatment facility, or a septic system.
  • Pet waste can be bagged and thrown into the trash.
  • Pet waste can be buried, at least 5" deep, in an area of your yard away from streams, brooks, ditches, wetlands and vegetable gardens.

Pet Waste & Water Quality Fact Sheet
Here is a great webpage on the problems with pet waste.


Practice car care for cleaner water
Cars contribute to water pollution in obvious ways such as when fluids leak, and less obvious ways such as through brake dust, pieces of tire and other small particles that normally get left behind when driving or small particles in exhaust that eventually settle in waterbodies. You can still play a big role in reducing the amount of pollution caused by your car.

  • Avoid washing your car on a paved surface. Take it to a car wash or wash it on a lawn. Car washes are required to treat dirty water and your lawn will help filter pollutants.
  • Recycle motor oil, antifreeze and other car fluids at a local auto supply store or with your mechanic and never pour them into a storm drain.
  • Keep your car tuned up to reduce the amount of pollutants in your car’s exhaust, as well as save money on gasoline.
  • Repair leaks right away and use kitty litter to clean up any spills.

Car Care for Cleaner Water Fact Sheet

Dispose of chemicals properly
Never dump chemicals down storm drains. Oil, paint, pool chemicals, pesticides, soaps and cleaners, and other chemicals do not belong in storm drains or the waterbodies they drain to. Take unwanted hazardous waste to Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day, held twice a year in spring and fall. Contact the Board of Health at 781-270-1955 for more information. Remember, only rain down the drain!


Keep yard waste out of storm drains, streams & wetlands
Grass clippings, leaves, tree branches and other yard waste or landscape materials should not be blown or raked into storm drains, or dumped into streams, waterbodies or wetlands, which is a violation of state and local wetlands protection law. These materials can interrupt normal drainage patterns, clog waterways and cause localized flooding and water stagnation, with the potential for increased mosquito populations. They may also impact sensitive wildlife habitat and harm aquatic life, particularly as they decompose.

The Town of Burlington offers seasonal curbside pickup of yard waste and leaves, and also sells compost bins at a reduced price for residents. Contact the Department of Public Works at 781-270-1670 for more information.

Good Practices for Yard Work Fact Sheet

Reduce or eliminate fertilizer & pesticide use
Phosphorus, a component of many common household products including lawn fertilizer, can be extremely damaging to our waters and aquatic organisms. Excess nitrogen can also contribute to impaired or polluted waters. Fertilizer from lawns and gardens washes into our streams and rivers with stormwater runoff. Fortunately, most lawns in our area do not need fertilizer and can be maintained with simple, organic compost and mulch (see below for a great compost option).

State regulations passed in 2015 have specific regulations on the application of plant nutrients (fertilizers) and when, where and what quantities can be used to both be effective and minimize impacts on surface and ground water resources to protect human health and the environment. These regulations apply to homeowners as well as professionals.

Massachusetts Plant Nutrient Regulations for Turf & Lawns Fact Sheet

  • Have your soil testedUMass Amherst provides inexpensive soil testing, which can determine what modifications your soils need for home gardening and landscaping.
  • Buy compost locallyChallenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm in Andover uses horses to provide beneficial therapy for people with a wide range of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. To help raise funds for their therapy programs, they sell well-composted horse manure by the 5 gallon bucket for a very reasonable price. The Burlington Garden Club has been offering this compost to its members and it has been very popular. It is purely organic, composted a minimum of 5 years, and has no chemicals and no odor. It looks like rich dark loam. Please contact to order or with any questions.

Maintain a naturally vegetated buffer around streams & wetlands
Trees and other vegetation around streams and wetlands are critical in providing and supporting the following important services: flood control, storm damage prevention, prevention of pollution, protection of wildlife habitat and protection of fisheries. Vegetation, especially trees and shrubs also help stabilize stream banks and prevent erosion, and the shade they provide helps mitigate the thermal pollution of streams by street runoff.  Dead trees provide additional wildlife habitat and carbon and nutrient cycling.

The Conservation Commission regulates work within 100 feet of wetlands and 200 feet of most streams and encourages planting native plants within these areas, particularly within 20 feet of wetlands and 100 feet of streams. Contact the Conservation Department at 781-270-1655 for more information.


Redirect downspouts to pervious surfaces
You can have a positive impact on stormwater runoff by slowing down runoff and keeping as much as possible on your own property instead of flowing directly into the street and storm drains. Whether you choose to use a rain barrel or rain garden (below) or not, you can still redirect rooftop downspouts away from driveways and other impervious surfaces onto lawn areas or planting beds where it can soak into the ground. Add splash guards or gravel to prevent erosion.

Use a rain barrel
Using a rain barrel to capture runoff from your rooftop will not only help to keep dirty water out of our streams, it will help to reduce your demand on our clean water resources. You can also reduce your water consumption by avoiding overwatering and only watering after dusk or early in the day.

There are several companies, listed below, that specialize in manufacture and distribution of rain barrels. Rain barrels can also be found at most garden centers or home improvement stores.

Create a rain garden
Another way to better manage stormwater at home is to create a rain garden. A rain garden can be designed to capture stormwater runoff from rooftops, driveways, or lawns. Rain gardens increase infiltration rates, keeping our waters clean and helping to minimize local flooding and replenish groundwater. The links below will take you to a fact sheet prepared by the Conservation Commission and some useful pages on creating your own rain garden.

Rain Garden Fact Sheet,,20517496,00.html

Properly drain swimming pools
Swimming pools and spas contain many chemicals that are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. Discharging pool water to streets and storm drains can also cause a nuisance or localized flooding or erosion. Ideally water should be discharged to your lawn in infiltrate slowly. If this is not possible, certain criteria must be met before discharging to a storm drain. Regardless of which method is used, pool or spa water must be dechlorinated before discharge, per Burlington’s Illicit Discharges and Detection Bylaw.

See complete instructions in the Swimming Pools & Spas Drainage Brochure


Reduce salt use in winter
Salt may be an easy way to get rid of snow and ice, but it pollutes wetlands, streams and groundwater. It also kills trees and grass as well as corroding auto bodies, metal bridges and underground cables. Shovel your driveway and sidewalk before the snow gets packed down and icy. If the pavement is still slick, use sand or sand mixed with salt to provide some traction and melt the snow. After the snow melts, sweep up the sand to keep it out of storm drains and waterways.

Sweep driveways, patios, walkways & sidewalks
Sweeping paved areas ensures that sediment, debris, and the contaminants they carry are disposed of properly and are not washed into our streams and rivers. Rather than rinsing these areas down with a garden hose, simply sweep the area into a dustpan and empty it into your trash.

Use permeable technology for driveways, patios, walkways & sidewalks
Instead of using traditional pavement or concrete for our driveways, patios, and sidewalks, we can use permeable technology such as porous asphalt, pervious concrete, or permeable pavers, which come in many options and designs. These technologies help to reduce stormwater runoff and increase infiltration of water into the ground, ultimately improving water quality, replenishing groundwater, and decreasing flooding and erosion.

Here is a great article on permeable surfaces.


Maintain your septic system
Leaking septic systems can significantly impair water quality with negative consequences for human health and the environment. If you have a septic system, have it inspected regularly, approximately every 3 years, and pumped as necessary, usually every 3 to 5 years.