Sources of water pollution like industrial wastes from factories have been greatly reduced in recent years. Now, more than 60% of water pollution comes from things like cars leaking oil, fertilizer from farms and gardens, and failing septic tanks. All these sources add up to a big pollution problem. So, believe it or not, the biggest source of water pollution today is not industry – it is actually households like yours. But each of us can do small things to help clean up our water. And it starts with realizing that our sewers and storm systems are separate – what goes into storm drains flows directly into the environment, untreated.


Fertilizer isn’t a problem if it is used carefully. If you use too much fertilizer or apply it at the wrong time, it can easily wash off your lawn or garden into storm drains and then flow untreated into lakes or streams. Just as in your garden, fertilizer in lakes and streams fuels plant growth. Fertilizers contain "nutrients" such as nitrates and phosphates. Excess nutrients over-stimulate the growth of aquatic plants and algae, which clog our waterways and block light to deeper waters while the organisms are alive; when the organisms die, they use up dissolved oxygen as they decompose, causing oxygen-poor waters that support only diminished amounts of marine life. Such areas are commonly called dead zones (like in the Gulf of Mexico every spring).


Phosphorus (the middle number on the fertilizer bag) is “junk food” for algae. One pound of phosphorus can produce 10,000 pounds of wet weeds and algae.

Pesticides that get applied to farm fields and roadsides (and homeowners' lawns) run off into local streams and rivers. It is tempting to think this is mostly a farming problem, but on a square-foot basis, homeowners apply even more chemicals to their lawns than farmers do to their fields!

•Water utilities spend $400 million each year to treat water for the chemical pesticide Atrazine.


How can you fertilize and help keep our waters clean?

•Use fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides sparingly. Many plants do not need as much fertilizer or need it as often as you might think. Whatever you put on your lawn could find its way into the stream.

•Choose fertilizer with a low phosphorus number (middle number). Only newly-seeded lawns or phosphorus-deficient soils require phosphorus.

•Don’t fertilize before a rain storm.

•Consider using organic fertilizers; they release nutrients more slowly.

•Sweep fertilizers and other chemicals that get on the driveway/sidewalk back onto your lawn to keep them out of our storm drains. •Use commercially available compost or make your own using garden waste. Mixing compost with your soil means your plants will need less chemical fertilizer and it puts your waste to good use.

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Litter is defined by Tennessee law as perishable animal and vegetable waste, garbage, perishable and nonperishable solid waste and tobacco products.


Section 39-14-503. (a) Mitigated criminal littering is littering in an amount less than or equal to five pounds (5 lbs.) in weight or seven and one-half (7.5) cubic feet in volume. 

  • criminal littering is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of fifty dollars ($50.00)

Section 39-14-504. (a) Criminal littering is littering in an amount more than five pounds (5 lbs.) in weight or seven and one-half (7.5) cubic feet in volume and less than or equal to ten pounds (10 Ibs.) in weight or fifteen (15) cubic feet in volume.

  • littering is a Class B misdemeanor, up to a $500 fine

  • In addition to the penalties established in this section, the court shall require a person convicted under this part to remove litter from the state or local highway system, public playgrounds, public parks or other appropriate public locations for not more than eighty (80) hours. The court, in its discretion, may also a person convicted under this section to work in a recycling center or other appropriate location for any stated period of time not to exceed eight (8) hours.

Section 39-14-505. (a) Aggravated criminal littering is littering:

  • In an amount exceeding ten pounds (10 lbs.) in weight or fifteen (15) cubic feet in volume; or

  • In any amount for any commercial purpose

  •  Aggravated criminal littering is a Class A misdemeanor, except in the following circumstances, in which case it is a Class E felony, up to a $1,500 fine.


Tennessee Toll-Free Litter Hotline

Tennesseans who are tired of trash along state roadways now have a new tool to report litter bugs. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced today a new toll-free litter hotline, 1-877-8-LITTER (877-854-8837). The litter hotline is part of the new statewide anti-litter campaign, StopLitter™. The hotline provides a way for Tennesseans to report people they witness littering along the state’s roadways, such as a person throwing a paper cup or cigarette butt out of a window, or an item falling from an unsecured load.

“The new toll-free litter hotline gives citizens the ability to Stop It,” said TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely. “Now anyone who witnesses a person littering can report it and trigger action to improve the quality of the environment and the cleanliness of our roadways. Tennessee has some of the best roads in the nation. With everyone’s help, we can have some of the cleanest, too.”

Citizens who witness a litter bug in action can call 1-877-8-LITTER (877-854-8837). Callers will reach a recording that asks them to provide information about the vehicle. The information that will be requested includes:

  • license plate number (Tennessee plates only)

  • type and make of the vehicle

  • day and time the incident occurred

  • location where the incident occurred

  • the type of item tossed or blown from the vehicle

TDOT will mail a letter to the registered owner of the vehicle along with a StopLitter™ car trash bag or portable ashtray and other anti-litter information. The letter is a gentle reprimand reminding the recipient that littering is against the law and punishable by a fine of up to $1500.


Click here for more information.

Click here for a complete list of the TN Litter Laws

Charlene DeSha
Executive Director
P.O. Box 6550
Maryville, TN 37802

© 2016 by Vaughn & Melton Consulting Engineers