Many of us breathed a sigh of relief as the drought and mandatory bans on unnecessary water use were lifted. But be warned: We’re polluting our drinking water in New Jersey.

Our drinking water comes from two sources, surface water from rivers and streams that is stored in reservoirs and underground water that we access using wells. Now consider this little-known fact: About 50 percent of New Jersey’s surface area is impermeable -- water can’t penetrate it. That includes, of course, roofs, sidewalks, roads and parking lots but it also means our compacted lawns. About 90 percent of the rain that lands on our lawns flows off and down the storm drains.

There are several major environmental consequences to this impermeability:

Most rain falling on our lawns doesn’t seep down into the soil to recharge our underground supplies, but disappears into creeks and rivers.

Nutrients, such as phosphates and nitrogen from our fertilized lawns, flow into the creeks and pollute them.

The high volumes of water flowing in our creeks scours the stream beds, uprooting water plants and destroying wildlife habitats.

To address these problems, the Sierra Club is promoting “Rain Gardens,” a simple-to-understand concept that encourages homeowners, municipalities and corporations to become a little less green, yes, less green, by plowing up some of our magnificently manicured lawns to plant native trees and plants. These areas will expand natural wildlife habitats, reduce runoff, and allow water to seep naturally into the ground. Such natural landscapes require much less water than sun-baked grassy expanses and less fossil fuel to power our lawnmowers.

Municipalities are converting unneeded grasslands to rain gardens around municipal buildings and in parks. Bell Labs in Holmdel turned acres of its expansive lawns into wildlife habitat, as are many other corporations. Asbury Park uses its train station rain garden as a place for music concerts. And homeowners, you can naturalize a low point on your property and watch the water be cleansed before your eyes. For more information, go to and look up rain gardens under actions for sustainable communities.

Nature will thank you.


Faith Teitelbaum

NJ Sierra Club Cool Cities Coordinator

Long branch, NJ