A map of Davidson County’s “impaired”—or polluted, as most of us would say—streams and tributaries looks a little like the graded blue book from my freshman chemistry class. That is to say, bleeding with squiggly red lines. And the culprit isn’t some unseen force—not acid rain or a clandestine government program that dumps contaminated material into our neighborhoods. No, we are our own victims. What generally pollutes our waterways are simply the dirt, dog poop and chemical treatments from our lawns, roofs and driveways.
But there’s no reason to accept life with toxins as inevitable. The key is to slow down and reduce stormwater runoff. To make that easy for you, we talked with members and staff of the Cumberland River Compact, who offer some gift ideas to that end—as well as other environmentally friendly suggestions for this holiday season.
A rain barrel You could spend upward of $100 with a mail-order catalog such as Plow & Hearth for what you could get right here at home for $25—and that meager sum will score you a seminar too. Rain barrels are used to capture water from downspouts to be reused in gardening. The Cumberland River Compact offers retrofitted 55-gallon barrels for this use, which has the added effect of reducing stormwater runoff and erosion.
A Kevin Guenther-designed rain garden Rain gardens are planted depressions designed to retain and absorb rainwater runoff that would otherwise make its way to storm drains. They prevent erosion, flooding and pollution, and are ideal for native wetland plants such as ferns, shrubs and trees. In Nashville, the rock star of rain gardens is Guenther, a landscape architect who has led Cumberland River Compact workshops on this topic. Contact him at 793-7694 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A tree, preferably a redbud Maybe the kids are still too young to appreciate your straying from Hannah Montana products (as seen on TV!), but your wife or husband isn’t. This time next year, Mother Earth will thank you.
An Energy Star front-loading washing machine Got two giant quilts soiled with baby spit up? No problem. These things are pricey but will pay you back in the long run in water savings, power savings and fewer loads. Most major appliance companies offer Energy Star (a government seal) products whose technologies use anywhere from 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. Visit energystar.gov for more information.
A low-flow showerhead Not all of these contraptions will leave you with that Seinfeldian flat-headed feeling. One that comes recommended is from Real Goods (800-919-2400) and cuts water use by 50 to 70 percent (or about $250 a year for a family of four). That’s a 2,100-percent return on a $12 investment.
On-demand water heater These puppies provide instant hot water only as it’s needed so that you’re not paying for keeping water hot until you need it. According to the EERE Consumer’s Guide, these so-called on-demand water heaters can be 24 to 34 percent more efficient than storage tank heaters, assuming your household uses 41 gallons or fewer of hot water a day.
Fluorescent light bulbs Not the sexiest gift ever, true, but tell your paramour that if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star-qualified bulb (this is according to Energy Star, by the way), “we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year”—or about $600 million in annual energy costs. These bulbs are more expensive than conventional bulbs but last longer and save energy.
Contact the Cumberland River Compact by calling 837-1151, visiting cumberlandrivercompact.org or emailing email@example.com.