WSU Whatcom County Extension

Stewardship is Where You Are

Gutter Guardians

The Big Picture

The land and water are interconnected.  Land determines where the streams will flow or lakes will form.  Every drop of rain or snow that does not fall directly on our water bodies travels over or through the land on its journey to those places.  This land that feeds the rain to a water-body is referred to as the watershed for that water-body, and the water that runs over the land is referred to as runoff.

We become concerned about watersheds and runoff when the rain picks up significant pollutants on its journey to our water-bodies.  When it rains, pollution from the land can enter the water.  The pollution that washes off of streets and parking lots, yards and farmland is called non-point source pollution because the pollution comes from a large area rather than a single point such as a factory discharge pipe.

Natural resource scientists use a number of tests to detect pollution in streams, lakes and bays.  This helps us determine whether the water is clean enough for fish and fishing, for swimming and boating, or as a source for drinking water.  For many tests, you need a laboratory.  But there are many important tests that you can do at home, or in partnership with scientists as a citizen scientist.

Explorer - Skill Level: One Engager - Skill Level: Two Citizen Scientist - Skill Level: Three


Water Strider
Inventory of hazardous chemicals

Title: What’s In Your Watershed?

Non-Point Pollution in Runoff
The Clean Water Act, which was made law in 1972, regulated pollution coming from point sources such as factories and, as a result, our waters are much cleaner and healthier.  Today, one of the biggest threats to our streams, lakes, and bays is the non-point source pollution washing off of the land. 

The list of things that rain can wash into our waters is quite long. Many garden products end up in our waters.  Other sources of non-point pollution might surprise you such as:

        - Feces from dogs, livestock, and high concentrations of wild animals
        - Motor oil from parked cars
        - Copper from car brake pads
        - Car and truck exhaust
        - Non-natural soil erosion


Activity 1: Chemical Investigations

Objective: Research environmental hazards associated with common home, yard and garden products and research ways to reduce these hazards.

Science Skills:  Research a Problem, Evaluate, Invent Solutions, Problem Solve.

Life Skills:  Keeping Records, Problem Solving, Responsible Citizenship

  1. Gather yard and garden products from around your home.  Open the labels on the back and look for information on “Environmental Hazards.”  Also look at the application instructions and note which products advise you to avoid applying near surface waters, or storm drains, or to keep the product off of sidewalks and driveways.   For help understanding how to read pesticide labels:
  2. Record the names and intended use of products with environmental hazard statements as well as those which caution the user to keep away from surface water, storm drains, and hardened surfaces.
  3. Research alternative methods or products to solve those problems the products on your list were intended to address. 
  4. Work with community partners to create a public awareness campaign about chemicals in your watershed.


Activity 2:  Water Quality and Pollution Sampling

Objective:  Collect and analyze water samples and become familiar with chemical composition of storm-water runoff.

Science Skills:  Collect Data, Measure, Observe, Use Tools

Life Skills:  Community Service and Volunteering, Contributions to Group Effort, Service Learning, Marketable Skills, Teamwork, Keeping Records

Preparation Activities: Choose one of the Water Quality testing organizations listed in “It’s All Connected” to volunteer. Training and/or kits available through WSU Extension.

Water sampling kit

Sound Citizen
Some pollutants like oil or eroded soil are visible but others are invisible and impossible to detect with only our senses.  Sound Citizen is a community-based water sampling network which analyzes water samples for both fun compounds (cooking spices) and serious ones (emerging pollutants).  They collect samples from places like roof runoff from your gutter and street drains as well as beaches and streams.  This type of sampling allows scientists to study the chemical connection between urban areas and aquatic ecosystems.

Re-Sources Storm-water and Water Quality Internships
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities offers volunteer and internship positions for people interested in monitoring storm-water and water quality.



Natural Resource Stewards


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Explore More

Wikipedia: Clean Water Act of 1972

Pesticide Labels

National Pesticide Information Center, Environment and Pesticides

National Geographic’s Green Guide

What is an Aquifer

USGS Whatcom as an Aquifer

Contamination in Aquifers

What’s in the Water?


It’s All Connected

Sound Citizen Program
Chemicals A-Z

WQ Testing Kit

Re Sources Water Quality Internships
(360) 733-8307

Whatcom County Public Works:  Storm Water Public Education

Public Works Administration
322 N. Commercial Street, Suite 210
Bellingham, Washington 98225
(360) 676-6692

Sample of Maintenance Schedule for Stormwater Pond Facilities (pdf)


Whatcom County Conservation District
Dairy and Application Risk Management (ARM)
Nichole Emberston
(360) 354-2035 x126

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WSU Whatcom County Extension, 1000 North Forest Street, Suite 201, Bellingham, WA 98225, (360) 778-5800, Contact Us