From toilets to lazy lawn care, a local nonprofit works to protect a Northern Kentucky watershed

Everybody poops. And everybody deserves a working flush toilet that flows into a well-functioning septic system when the time comes to evacuate. It’s a modern convenience you tend to take for granted in the United States in the 21st Century.

But for some of our neighbors, it isn’t a foregone conclusion. That’s why a portion of the $325,000 in grant money recently awarded to the nonprofit Banklick Watershed Council by the Kentucky Division of Water is helping to fund essential septic system repairs in the Banklick Watershed area, which stretches from Independence to Fort Mitchell and Fort Wright, also encompassing Elsmere, Edgewood, and Taylor Mill.

Banklick Creek winds through soft green hills in Pioneer Park in Covington.You’re likely most familiar with Banklick Creek itself from where it flows through Pioneer Park, although it also winds through many residential and wooded areas before connecting with the Licking River.

Additionally, some of the grant funds will go toward educating homeowners on another mode of watershed contamination: runoff from excessive lawn treatments and careless pet waste disposal. But first, toilets.

What to watersheds have to do with toilets?

Waste water from sinks, toilets, bathtubs, dishwashers, and laundry machines has to go somewhere, and if the septic system fails, it’s going into the ground.

“The fact is, everyone lives in a watershed,” explains Nicole Clements, Watershed Coordinator at Banklick Watershed Council. “You are always in an area that drains to somewhere. It’s like a bowl, everything will eventually collect into a creek, stream or waterway.”

Septic systems are used for homes that don’t have access to public sewers and treat the wastewater onsite. If a septic tank fails, that waste water flows straight into the ground and into our watershed.

Why can’t individuals just pay for their own repairs?

A clean, functioning toilet in a 1950s-era bathroom somewhere in Northern Kentucky.“Costs to repair an individual’s failing septic system range from $4k-16k,” says Clements. That’s a big expense, especially for lower-income or young families who uncover the problem only after buying their first home. Clements has seen many of these stories, like this one: “A young family buys a new house and they’re super excited. Then they find out that the previous owner bypassed the system and a bathroom pipe is going straight into the backyard.”

Those unsuspecting first-time homeowners were now literally seeing human waste in their brand new backyard and facing a huge bill to fix it. “In that case, we were able to help out. You have to put in a new tank and lines for it,” explains Clements. “A lot of times it’s lower income households, or first-time homeowners,” she says. “It’s an expense that’s really hard for people to address, and sometimes people just don’t.”

The first individuals to receive help from this grant money will be pulled from a waiting list, and Banklick Watershed Council will keep providing repairs until the money runs out. People on the waiting list may be like a gentleman who the Council helped a couple of years ago. “He had a failing system in a new home he bought — sewage was coming into the basement, and they had a porta potty in their front yard for months and months,” Clements shares. The assistance was essential for this Northern Kentucky resident, who couldn’t afford to make the repairs.

Lazy lawn care is the greener way

Grant money will also go toward educating Northern Kentucky residents about the harmful effects of polluted runoff water. As it turns out, there’s a huge likelihood you’re over-treating your lawn. Grass can only absorb so much, and the rest is washed away. Especially in Northern Kentucky, you might be surprised to find out that fertilization really only needs to happen once per year, in the fall.

According to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment Cooperative Extension Service, recent soil test results of cool-season lawns in Kentucky planted with varietals like Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass and fine fescue “have revealed that 50 percent of homeowner turf soil samples are high or above normal for phosphorous and potassium.”

That means your lawn most likely does not need any additional fertilizer, and it’s not just overkill — it’s dangerous for our region’s water. “Over-applying or misapplying phosphorus can lead to surface water contamination. Most phosphorus contamination occurs due to runoff,” according to the UK extension. When you do fertilize, avoid throwing fertilizers on hard surfaces such as sidewalks where they will just be washed away into the watershed.

In most cases, a nitrogen-only fertilizer is adequate — so choose carefully. Generally speaking, this single-nutrient approach will keep your lawn healthy and with good color during a mild winter.

Another hot tip for lazy lawncare? “Leave your leaves and let them do the fertilizing,” says Clements. Yep, you heard that right. No raking required. But there is one thing you shouldn’t be lazy about when it comes to your yard. Make sure to pick up your dog’s poop, advises Clements. “It may look like it dissolves, but there are bacteria that goes into the water system,” she explains.

To learn more about the mission of Banklick Creek Watershed Council, visit their site.
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Read more articles by Jessica Bozsan.

Jessica Bozsan is a writer, content marketer and overall passionate communicator who lives in Ft. Thomas, KY, with her hectic family of five. She’s also a reader of novels, a yogi, a walker and a hiker. Additionally, she loves to knit, sew, draw, make jewelry and throw pottery on the wheel.