Welcome to H2OHero.org!

Welcome to H2OHero.org!

Welcome to my home in the Watershed. Here I'll show you how to be an H2O Hero just like me! Just do some exploring and I'll share 11 helpful tips with you. Then use the links or tabs below for even more information.

Clean up after your pets

Did you know that 15 to 20 percent of the bacteria in our waterways come from pet waste? Now that really stinks! Cleaning up after your pet is the simplest thing you can do to keep harmful bacteria from being washed into our storm drains, and eventually into our waterways. For more information, read our "At Home" section.

Make a Rain Barrel

A rain barrel collects rainwater that can be used later to water landscaping around your home. This can save most homeowners over 1,000 gallons of water a year! Collecting and using rainwater helps protect the environment and saves money and energy by reducing the demand for treated tap water. Learn how to make a rain barrel for your home in our H2O Quality 101 section below.

Minimize your use of fertilizers and pesticides

Keep fertilizers and pesticides off driveways, sidewalks, and roads where they would run off into storm drains. Don't apply them near waterways. For more information, read our "At Home" section.

Only Rain Down The Drain

Storm drains connect your neighborhood directly to the nearest stream or body of water. They're different from sanitary sewers, which connect to a treatment facility. it's never a good idea to dump anything into a storm drain because it doesn't get treated and will pollute our waterways. To learn more about storm drains, check out our H2O Quality 101 section.

Recycle Your Oil

When changing your car's oil, please make sure to recycle the old oil. Be sure to clean up any spills by absorbing with kitty litter or sand, then dispose of properly. For more information, read our "At Home" section.

Keep the Pavement Clear of Grass Clippings

Mulching grass clippings or leaving them on your lawn provides a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Mowing high helps control weed growth. Sweep up grass clippings from roadways and driveways, and DO NOT dump grass clippings or other plant materials into streets, catch basins, or streams — the nutrients will leach from them and enter nearby waterways, spurring unwanted algae growth. For more information, read our "At Home" section.

Mark Storm Drains

Storm drain marking can help deter storm drain dumping and reduce non-point source pollution by informing residents that anything that goes down a storm drain goes directly into a waterbody without being treated. To be an H2O Hero and volunteer to coordinate a storm drain marking event, read our "Get Involved" section.

Maintain a Buffer Strip Along Waterways

Undisturbed (unmowed) vegetation along streams and drainage pathways will capture nutrients that wash off your lawn before they are discharged to the waterway. For more information, read our "At Home" section.

Dispose of Hazardous Chemicals Properly

If your garage is anything like Larry's, it probably has its share of half-used cans of paint, cleaners and chemicals lying around. Some people dump them down the storm drain - or throw them in the trash - just to get rid of them. Learn the right way to dispose of these materials so they don't end up getting into our groundwater and our nearby lakes and streams. For more information, read our "At Home" section.

Visit the Local Car Wash

Sure, Larry likes to keep his wheels looking hot. But he knows that washing his car at the local car wash - instead of in his driveway - is the best way to keep harmful detergents from getting into our local waterways. For more information, read our "At Home" section.

Create a Rain Garden

A rain garden is a planted depression that is designed to absorb rainwater runoff from roofs and driveways. This reduces stormwater runoff by allowing rain to soak into the ground and replenish groundwater. By reducing runoff, rain gardens help protect water quality and reduce erosion and flooding. To install a rain garden in your yard, visit our "Get Involved" section.

At Home
At School
For Kids
H2O Quality 101
Get Involved
About Us
Rochester Embayment
Your Watershed

At Home

Be an H2O Hero at Home: Make Your Home the Solution to Pollution

When you look around at your community, you will likely notice that there is more land covered with housing than any other use. Every house has impervious surfaces (roofs, sidewalks, and/or driveways) that prevent water from soaking into the ground. The stormwater runoff that comes from these impervious surfaces picks up pollutants that have come from the air, lawn and garden care, vehicles, pets, or on-site wastewater treatment systems and washes them into our waterways. If you and your neighbors become H2O Heroes, you can make a difference by reducing the pollutants that make their way to Lake Ontario. Click on one of the links to learn more about what you can do at home:

More household tips for protecting water quality can be found at: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/FeaturedProducts.cfm

1. Proper Pet Waste Disposal


Pet waste left on the street or lawn does not just go away or fertilize the grass. The bacteria and nutrients in dog waste are often washed by rainwater or snowmelt down storm drains and into ditches, streams, ponds, and lakes and can travel for miles in the water. Kitty litter dumped outside can also be washed into our streams. The bacteria from pet waste can make it unsafe to swim in our waters. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (eutrophication). Cloudy and green, eutrophic water makes swimming and recreation unappealing or even unhealthy. It's been estimated that there are more than 110,000 dogs that live in Monroe County. Just think about the amount of pollutants that could be washed into our waterways from that much dog waste! In most communities, it is the law that dog waste must be picked up from sidewalks, roads, or the private property of another person.

How? For Dog Waste:
  • Keep a supply of bags near your dog leash; tie bags on the leash if you don't have a pocket or pack.
  • Reuse old bags: plastic newspaper bags, bread bags, sandwich bags, cereal bags, potato chip bags, etc.
  • Purchase special bags where pet supplies are sold.
  • Long-handled "pooper scoopers" available at pet stores make it easy to pick up after your dog without stooping over.
  • Discard the bag in your outdoor trash can.
  • Need help? You can contract with a service to pick up the pet waste in your yard. Check in the Yellow Pages or use a search engine to find a service.
For Cat Waste:
  • Bag used kitty litter, tie securely, and place in garbage.



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2. Lawn Care and Landscaping for the H2O Hero at Home:

Map of Larrys house #1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

1: Minimize fertilizer Use: Fertilizers used for lawns and gardens may contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. In Monroe County, most of our soils already have enough phosphorus to make our grass and plants grow. Phosphorus in fertilizer gets washed off our grass and gardens with rainwater; the phosphorus makes its way to our ponds and lakes. Too much phosphorus in our waterways causes an excess of algae and other plant growth in our water. For more information on phosphorus in our local waterways, go to H2O Quality 101. Now, IT'S THE LAW!: New York State has recently banned phosphorus in lawn fertilizers. Make sure your fertilizer does not contain phosphorus by reading the label and verifying that the middle number of the three number set shown is 0, for example 12-0-15. Fertilize in early autumn only to supplement nitrogen, and now, IT'S THE LAW!: New York State has recently banned the application of fertilizer on lawn between December 1st and April 1st. Dispose of unused phosphorus-containing fertilizers properly.

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2: Mulching grass clippings or leaving them on your lawn provides a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Mowing high helps control weed growth. Sweep up grass clippings from roadways and driveways, and DO NOT dump grass clippings or other plant materials into streets, catch basins, or streams — the nutrients will leach from them and enter nearby waterways, spurring unwanted algae growth.

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3: The fertilized soil that you create by mulching or composting can be recycled in your yard and reused as a natural fertilizer.

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4: Undisturbed (unmowed) vegetation along streams and drainage pathways will capture nutrients that wash off your lawn before they are discharged to the waterway. Now IT'S THE LAW!: New York State now prohibits the application of lawn fertilizer within 20 feet of any surface water except where there is a vegetative buffer of at least 10 feet, or 3 feet from surface water where the fertilizer is applied by a device with a spreader guard, deflector shield, or drop spreader.

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5: Why? Pollutants picked up from your roof can be kept out of the waterways if they are first filtered and used by your existing vegetation. If the downspouts are directed to impervious surfaces like your driveway and storm sewer, they will make their way directly to the closest waterway. How? You can direct your downspouts directly onto vegetated surfaces, or install a rain barrel to collect the rain and distribute it as needed to other parts of your yard during drier periods.

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6: Plant rain gardens of native drought- and pest-resistant plants to collect and filter rainwater. Why? Because rainwater picks up pollutants from the surfaces it touches, and washes them into our waterways. For more information on rain gardens, click here.

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7: Most storm drains flow directly or to nearby waterways, and any fertilizer, dirt, and debris that enters the storm drains will cause pollution of streams, and eventually Lake Ontario. Now IT'S THE LAW!: New York State has recently prohibited application of fertilizer on impervious surfaces and requires pick up of fertilizer applied or spilled onto impervious surfaces, such as sidewalks, driveways, and roadways.

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8: Use proper pesticide notification signs and let your neighbors know. Go to http://www2.monroecounty.gov/eh-environmentalquality.php#Pesticide or call 753-PEST for more information and regulations.

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9: When it rains, any misapplied fertilizers sitting on sidewalks or other paved areas will get washed into drainageways and make their way, untreated, into our waterways.

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10: Follow directions on the bag and don't apply broadly. Sweep up excess from driveways and sidewalks; don't wash off these surfaces.

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Download the H2O Hero Lawn care and Landscaping brochure

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3. Home Maintenance and Improvements

  • Need a new roof? Consider having a green roof installed to reduce stormwater runoff and in turn reduce pollutants that get washed into waterways. Green roofs also conserve energy usage.
    • http://www.greenroofs.com/index.html
    • Want to know more about green roof installations in the Rochester area? Use your favorite search engine. If you put in "green roofs Rochester New York" you'll get some hits.
  • Need a new driveway or walkway? Consider using gravel or porous blocks if you have sandy soils, rather than impermeable pavement. Gravel or other porous materials allow water to seep into the ground and cleanse itself before making its way to groundwater. Stormwater hitting a paved driveway usually carries pollutants quickly to a local stream or pond. Some towns and villages have restrictions on the construction of gravel driveways, so be sure to check first before planning a gravel driveway.
  • Rain Gardens. Create a rain garden. A rain garden is a planted depression that is designed to absorb rainwater runoff from roofs and driveways. This reduces stormwater runoff by allowing rain to soak into the ground and replenish groundwater. By reducing runoff, rain gardens help protect water quality and reduce erosion and flooding. (More info)

  • Install a rain barrel.. A rain barrel collects and stores rain water from your roof that would otherwise be lost to the stormwater system. A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Collecting and using rain water helps protect the environment and saves money and energy (decreased demand for treated tap water). Diverting water from storm drains also reduces the impact of runoff on streams and Lake Ontario. (More info)

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4. Car Maintenance

Reconsider car maintenance at home: Why?

"…When cars are washed on streets and driveways, dirty water enters storm drains and makes its way to local waterways. The used wash water contains, among other things, detergent residue, heavy metals, and oil and grease. Other pollutants that can make their way to waterways from cars include residue from exhaust fumes, gasoline, heavy metals from rust and motor oils."


Use a commercial car wash: The average homeowner uses 116 gallons of water to wash a car, while most commercial car washes use 60% less water for the entire process than a homeowner uses just to rinse the car. Also, most commercial car washes reuse wash water and then send it to a wastewater treatment plant for processing.

If you do wash your car at home, here's how to minimize the water quality impact:

  • Use only biodegradable, phosphate-free, water-based cleaners.
  • Use a high-pressure, low-volume hose with a trigger nozzle to save water.
  • Wash on an area that absorbs water, such as gravel, or grass, which filters water before it enters groundwater, storm drains, or creeks.
  • Avoid washing cars on concrete or asphalt pavement.
  • When planning a car wash fundraiser, try developing a partnership with a commercial car wash facility or have the cars washed on a permeable surface.
  • Always empty wash buckets into sinks or toilets, or onto the lawn.
Car Oil: Why?

Used oil from a single oil change can pollute up to one million gallons of freshwater. Improper disposal of used oil, which includes oil leaking from cars, contributes significantly to stormwater pollution. The EPA estimates that American households generate 193 million gallons of used oil every year and improperly dump the equivalent of 17 Exxon Valdez oil spills every year. Oil that leaks from cars onto pavement will get washed into nearby storm drains and enter local waterways untreated. Never dump motor oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid, or other engine fluids down storm drains, into road gutters, on the ground, or into a ditch.

What can you do?
  • Check your car often for oil and fluid drips and other leaks and fix them promptly.
  • Have your car regularly tuned up to reduce oil use.
  • Use ground cloths or drip pans under your vehicle if you have leaks or are doing engine work.
  • RECYCLE used motor oil. Many auto supply stores, car care centers, gas stations, and some public works facilities accept used motor oil.
  • Clean up spills immediately. Use kitty litter or sand to soak up the liquid. Properly dispose of this material after the spill. Collect all used motor oil in containers with tight fitting lids. Do not mix waste oil with gasoline, solvents, or other engine fluids. This contaminates the oil, which may otherwise be reused, and may form a more hazardous chemical.

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5. Use, Storage, and Disposal of Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, and Electronics

Household Chemicals

Unused household cleaners, grease, oil, paints, pesticides, or fertilizers should not be disposed of outside or disposed of with your weekly trash. On household lawns and gardens, homeowners can try natural alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides and apply no more than the recommended amounts. Natural predators like insects and bats, composting, and use of native plants can reduce or entirely negate the need for lawn chemicals. For information on how to properly dispose of chemical waste, go to the Monroe County Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Program at


or, Monroe County residents can call 585 753-7600 (Option #3) to make an appointment at the HHW facility for disposal of these environmental hazards, free-of-charge.


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported that pharmaceuticals such as steroids, prescription and nonprescription medications, antibiotics and hormones have been detected in the nation's streams, rivers, and lakes. Studies have shown that pharmaceuticals are present in water bodies around the U.S., but more research is needed to determine the extent of ecological harm and the impact that it may have on human health. Although the concentrations are low, their effect could be potentially harmful to aquatic and human life.

To reduce potential sources of environmental contamination, the Monroe County Department of Environmental Services organizes pharmaceutical waste collections to provide residents with a safe and proper way to dispose of their unused or unwanted medications. This service is free of charge to Monroe County residents. Pharmaceuticals include, but are not limited to, prescription and over-the-counter medications, veterinary medications and nutritional supplements. For more information on pharmaceutical waste and its proper disposal, go to Monroe County Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal at


Monroe County residents can call 585 753-7600 (Option #3) or go to


for available drop-off dates and locations for disposal of these environmental hazards, free-of-charge.


Most computer monitors and televisions contain about five pounds of lead. Computers also contain other elements (such as metals and rechargeable batteries), and rechargeable batteries (from laptop computers, cell phones, electronic components, etc.) contain metals like cadmium and mercury. All these items, if improperly disposed of, can be environmental hazards.

There are several companies in the Monroe County area that will accept computers/TVs and other electronics from residents. For details about these programs, go to the Monroe County website's Electronics Recycling page at


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6. Septic System Maintenance

If your home has an on-site septic system (very likely if you don't pay for sewer services as part of your local tax bill), it is important that you properly maintain your system so that sewage does not leak onto your lawn and drain to nearby waterways. For information about maintaining your septic system, go to Monroe County Health Dept. Septic System Care and Maintenance:


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7. Pools, Fountains, and Spas

Although it is perfectly safe to enjoy pools, fountains, and spas when their waters are treated properly, that same water in our stormwater system can become hazardous for aquatic life and our environment. Chlorine, acid, algaecides and other water treatment chemicals should be handled, stored, used and disposed of properly. Even the empty containers need proper cleaning before disposal.

When using water treatment chemicals in pools, fountains, and spas:

  • Purchase only the amount of chemical needed to do the job. If chemicals need to be stored, place in a covered, yet well-ventilated area.
  • Thoroughly read all information provided on chemical container labels.
  • Triple rinse all chemical containers, each time pouring the rinse water back into the pool, fountain, or spa. Containers are then safe for disposal in household garbage.
  • Dispose of old or unwanted chemicals only at a Household Hazardous Waste facility.

Pool backwashing is the most common maintenance activity. Backwash water can become a pollutant to our stormwater system, and draining to a storm sewer or water body is illegal if the water contains chemicals.

Some basic practices to prevent pool backwash chemicals, as well as fountain and spa wastewaters, from entering a water body include:

  • Backwash water should drain into the lawn or other landscaped area of your property. Draining slowly will allow chemicals to dissipate and prevent erosion.
  • Never drain backwash into a stream, creek, pond, or other natural water body.
  • Do not drain backwash water into the storm sewer.
  • Do not drain backwash onto driveways, sidewalks, streets, or other impervious surfaces.
  • All wastewater from acid washing should be neutralized to pH between 6.0 and 7.0 and discharged to the lawn or sanitary sewer.
  • Dispose of diatomaceous earth (DE) in the household garbage.

Draining Pools, Fountains and Spas

  • Drain your pool, fountain, or spa only when a tested sample does not detect chlorine.
  • Do not drain pools, fountains or spas down a driveway or to a storm sewer. Instead, drain slowly to the lawn or other landscaped area of your property using a low-volume pump or siphon.
  • Be aware of drainage patterns that may affect neighboring properties, especially steep slopes.
  • Winterize your pool by waiting for chlorine levels to be close to zero, draining your pool as described above, and then adding your winter treatment chemicals. Draining first reduces the amount of chemicals needed and saves money. Mix the chemicals in your pool by using a skimmer pole and brush attachment.

Download the H2O Hero Pools, Fountains and Spas… brochure.

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At School


The Stormwater Coalition of Monroe County has developed stormwater-related curriculums for elementary through high school grade levels to assist teachers in providing instruction on current water quality issues of concern within Monroe County and the Rochester Embayment. View Water Quality Curriculum.

Partnering with the Coalition, the Rochester Museum and Science Center offers free Professional Development Workshops for Elementary and Secondary Grade Educators which introduce these curriculums and show how they can be incorporated into NYS Standards of Learning. Information on these workshops can be accessed at: http://www.rmsc.org/ForTeachers/ProfessionalDevelopment/ElementarySecondary/

Education Program

The Stormwater Coalition of Monroe County, through educators from the Rochester Museum & Science Center, provides water quality demonstrations as part of its Watershed Public Outreach Program. In these presentations, your students/group will have fun learning about how to help protect our watershed. The participants rotate through three stations:

Enviroscape: In this interactive demonstration, a tabletop model of a watershed is used to show how water runoff from land surfaces affects our watershed by making its way via storm drains and the storm sewer system into nearby tributaries, streams, ponds, and ground water, and impact local major bodies of water, including Lake Ontario.

Macroinvertabrates: Participants discover the quality of two "streams" by determining which macroinvertabrates are thriving or not thriving in local waterbodies. Computer Station: At this station the participants will learn how everyday activities around their homes can impact the quality of our watershed both positively and negatively.

Computer Station: At this station, the participants will learn how everyday activities around their homes can impact the quality of our watershed both positively and negatively.

The entire program runs about an hour, but it can be modified to work with individual time schedules as needed. To schedule a Watershed Presentation for your students or group, click here.

Schools and groups are also encouraged to become involved in local watershed issues through field activities such as watershed cleanups, storm drain marking, or developing rain gardens. These programs can be conducted on campus or in local neighborhoods. For more information on starting a watershed-focused activity at your school or your group, click here.

About Our Watershed

  • A watershed is an area of land that drains into a body of water, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, sea, or ocean. The watershed includes both the streams and rivers that convey the water, as well as the land surfaces from which water runs off. Watersheds are separated from adjacent watersheds by high points, such as hills or slopes. We all reside, work, and play in a watershed, and keeping it protected is everybody's job. We can all be H2O Heroes!. (NYSDEC)
  • Genesee River Watershed (NYS DEC)
  • Surf Your Watershed (USEPA)
  • Science in Your Watershed (USGS)

Caring for Our Watershed

  • Activities of all land uses within watersheds impact the water quality of down-gradient water bodies. Point and nonpoint sources of pollution in a watershed contribute nutrients, bacteria, and chemical contaminants to U.S. waterways. Watershed management encompasses all the activities aimed at identifying sources and minimizing contaminants to a water body from its watershed. Watershed management recognizes that the water quality of our streams, lakes, and estuaries results from the interaction of upstream features. Effective planning and long-term change in impaired watersheds requires citizen participation in many stages of the process. (USDA)
  • Local Adopt-A-Stream Program
  • Genesee River Wilds Project
  • Watershed Academy (USEPA)
  • NYS DEC Watershed Management

Teacher Training

More Resources

For Kids


Pain in the Drain

Help Larry sort out the oil from the water. Be careful not to let oil fall down the drain.

Click on the image to play the game!

H2O Hero in: Watershed Showdown

Help Larry clean up the town by collecting littered bottles. Complete missions and answer questions to gain extra points.

Click on the image to play the game!

Coloring Pages

Larry Cleans up After Scoop.

While out on a walk with Scoop, Larry always makes sure to clean up any waste that may find its way into the watershed.

Click on the image to download a coloring page!

Larry Disposes of Hazardous Chemicals Properly.

While cleaning out his garage, Larry finds a lot of half-used cans of paint, cleaners, and chemicals lying around. Instead of pouring them down the storm drain or throwing them in the trash, Larry participates in his area's Household Hazardous Waste disposal program.

Click on the image to download a coloring page!


Song Lyrics

Sing along with H2O Hero.

Click on the image to download this activity!


The H2O Hero Maze.

Help H2O Hero get from the storm drain to the beach!

Click on the image to download this activity!

H2O Hero comic book

Read H2O Hero's first comic book.

Click on the image to download the comic!


H2O Quality 101

What is a Watershed?

To understand how water becomes polluted, we need to understand the watershed concept. Simply put, a watershed is the area of land that drains to a particular waterbody. For example, the Genesee River watershed is 2,480 square miles in size and extends all the way to Pennsylvania. When it rains or when snow melts anywhere in the watershed, the water seeps into the ground or drains downslope through a network of channels and streams and ultimately reaches the Genesee River and Lake Ontario. If you've ever used a funnel, you get the idea of how a watershed works.

What is Stormwater and why is it important?

As our towns and cities developed, we constructed roads, parking lots, and driveways that disrupt the natural flow of water. When rain lands on these hard surfaces, it is not able to seep into the ground and instead becomes stormwater runoff. The runoff flows into the gutter, enters the stormdrain, and travels through a network of pipes to the nearest waterway. This network of gutters, drains, and pipes is known as the stormwater system and is intended to prevent flooding. In rural areas, the stormwater system is generally made up of ditches, rather than gutters and pipes.

What's the difference between the stormwater system and the sewer system?

In most of the Lake Ontario watershed, the stormwater system is a separate system of pipes/ditches and is not part of the sanitary sewer system that transports sewage from our homes to the sewage treatment plant. This is a very important concept to understand. Water that enters the stormwater system is transported to the nearest waterway, and ultimately to Lake Ontario, without being treated at a sewage treatment plant.

The City of Rochester is an exception. In most areas of the City, the stormwater system and the sanitary system are a combined system. That is, both stormwater and sewage are transported through the same system of pipes and are treated at the sewage treatment plant.

How does stormwater affect water quality?

An unintended consequence of the stormwater system is that pollutants such as automotive fluids, fertilizers and pesticides, bacteria, sediments, litter, and pet waste are quickly and efficiently transported from parking lots, roads, and driveways to the nearest waterway. Stormwater pollution results from many of our everyday activities such as how we care for and maintain our cars, lawns, and pets. The good news is that these are sources of pollution that we can do something about.

When we think about water pollution, many of us think of industry and sewage treatment plants. While it is true that industry and sewage treatment plants can be a source of water pollution, these operations have made major improvements to their processes and have been regulated for many years. As a result, stormwater is now the most significant source of pollution to many of our local waterways.

What is the condition of our Local Waterways?

In general, water quality in the Genesee River, Lake Ontario, and our other local waterways is greatly improved because of major investments in infrastructure, government regulations, and other efforts. However, local water quality conditions are quite diverse and are a reflection of historic and present land uses in the associated drainage area.

How do we know what the water quality is in our local waterways?

New York State and many local municipalities and research institutions monitor and study local water quality conditions. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) publishes a "Priority Waterbodies List" that documents polluted waterways in the State. This list and many associated documents can be viewed on the DEC website.

What is the condition of Lake Ontario?

Lake Ontario is the most downstream of the five Great Lakes. As such, it drains a watershed of almost 300,000 square miles across much of the north central United States and south central Canada. Excluding the drainage area of the other Great Lakes, the Lake Ontario watershed is 24,720 square miles in size. Water quality conditions in Lake Ontario are highly variable. Although water quality in the open waters of the Lake has greatly improved in recent decades, the near shore areas are still degraded. The Rochester Embayment (that area of Lake Ontario formed by the indentation of the Monroe County shoreline between Bogus Point in the town of Parma and Nine Mile Point in the town of Webster) has long been an area of concern for poor water quality.

Why is there algae at the beach?

Among the most visible water quality problems in the Embayment are the nuisance algae blooms at Ontario Beach and Durand Beach. An important nutrient supporting algae growth in Lake Ontario is phosphorus. This nutrient comes from a variety of sources including lawn and agricultural fertilizers, air pollution, pet waste, and leaky septic systems. When there is an excess of phosphorus, algae can grow and reproduce rapidly.

In addition to being unsightly, algae blooms create favorable conditions for bacteria to multiply. High bacteria levels are also associated with heavy rains. Stormwater can contain lots of bacteria that wash off of pavements and rooftops. When bacteria levels are high enough to cause health risks, the beaches are closed. For example, at Ontario Beach, Health Department scientists make decisions to open or close the beach based on the conditions at the beach on that day and what has happened in the days before that could impact the beach. They also collect water samples that tell them if there are bacteria present.

Is it safe to eat fish from local waters?

Fish consumption advisories are another significant water quality problem in Lake Ontario and other local waterways. Fish may contain dangerous chemicals in amounts considered too high by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). People can consume these chemicals when eating the fish. The NYSDOH recommends that women of childbearing age and children under the age of 15 should not eat any fish from Lake Ontario and the waters that contain contaminated fish. Others should limit their fish consumption according to the specific advisory for that body of water.

What is the condition of the Genesee River?

Water quality in the Genesee River also varies greatly. For instance, the lower Genesee River watershed includes significant industrial and urban areas. Therefore, in this section of the river, one finds the types of water quality problems commonly associated with these land uses such as contaminated sediments and degraded aquatic life.

However, the Genesee River has benefited greatly from an innovative program in the 1970s to reduce the impact from the combined sewers that serve most of the City of Rochester. Prior to this program, the treatment capacity of the combined system was often exceeded during large rain storms. When this happened, an untreated combination of stormwater water and sewage would have to be discharged to the river. As a solution, large tunnels were constructed to store the combined stormwater and sewage during rain storms so that it can be treated later when capacity is available.

Residents often assume that the Genesee River is highly polluted because of its muddy appearance. However, much of this sediment load is naturally occurring and associated with the highly erodible soils in the watershed. Agriculture and construction activities in the watershed also contribute sediment.

The upper reaches of the Genesee River are not as impacted as the lower sections near Rochester and the sources of pollution there are generally associated with agricultural activities.

How clean are our local streams, ponds, and bays?

Many of our smaller streams, ponds, and bays have also shown significant improvements in water quality. In some cases, this has been the result of infrastructure improvements. For example, in the past, many towns and villages operated their own sewage treatment plants and discharged to local streams. However, because of the relatively small flow in these streams they were seriously impacted by these sewage discharges. Over the last few decades, many of these small treatment plants have been taken off line. Instead, sewage treatment is provided by larger regional facilities, such as the Van Lare Wastewater Treatment Plant which discharges into Lake Ontario. With these improvements, stormwater, construction, and agriculture are now the principal sources of pollution to our smaller waterways.


Acid Rain: Rain with a pH of less than 5.6; results from atmospheric moisture mixing with sulfur and nitrogen oxides emitted from the burning of fossil fuels; may cause damage to buildings, crops, forests, and aquatic life.

Acid Rain

Figure 1.

Algae: Any of various primitive, chiefly aquatic, one-celled or multi-cellular plants that lack true stems, roots, and leaves but usually contain chlorophyll. Included among the algae are kelps and other seaweeds, and the diatoms.


Figure 2. Algal growth

Atmospheric deposition: Particles from the atmosphere deposited on the earth's surface either in wet or dry form.

Combined Sewer: A sewer system by which both storm water and sanitary wastes are transported by the same pipe to a sewage treatment plant.

Erosion: The wearing away of land surfaces by wind or water. This process occurs naturally, but can be greatly intensified by land clearing activities. Erosion of soil along stream banks can cause streams and rivers to appear brown, and sometimes cause problems for fish and wildlife.


Figure 3. Stream Bank Erosion on Irondequoit Creek in Monroe County.

Eutrophication: A process of nutrient (mainly phosphorus and nitrogen) enrichment whereby water bodies gradually become more densely populated with vegetation and algae.


Figure 4. Eutrophication in Northrup Creek.

Phosphorus: Key nutrient influencing plant growth in lakes and streams. Soluble reactive phosphorus is the amount of phosphorus in solution that is available to plants. Total phosphorus includes the amount of phosphorus in solution (reactive) and in particulate form.

Runoff: Water from rain, snowmelt, or irrigation that flows over the ground and into water features. It can collect pollutants from the air and land and carry them into the receiving waters.

Sediment: Insoluble material suspended in water that consists mainly of particles derived from rocks, soil, and organic materials; a major nonpoint source pollutant that other pollutants may attach to.

Stormwater Runoff: Precipitation and snowmelt runoff from roadways, parking lots, and roof drains that is collected in gutters and drains; a major source of nonpoint source pollution to water bodies.

Stormwater Runoff

Figure 5.

Watershed: All the land that drains to a specific stream, river, or lake.

Wetland: A landform (marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens) characterized by the presence of water, hydric soils, and hydrophytic vegetation. Often wetlands form the transition zones between upland and deep-water environments. Wetlands play a critical role in protecting water quality by filtering pollutants.


Figure 6.

Get Involved

Storm Drain Marking

Storm Drain Marker

Be an H2O Hero and volunteer to coordinate a storm drain marking event.

Storm drain marking is a group activity requiring at least 3 people (one of whom must be an adult supervisor). Storm drain marking can help deter storm drain dumping and reduce non-point source pollution by informing residents that anything that goes down a storm drain goes directly into a waterbody without being treated. Adhering storm drain markers with the message: "Keep Clean – Drains to Lake" near the storm drain inlets can remind would-be-dumpers and passersby that the storm drains empty storm water directly into local water bodies and that activities such as dumping chemicals or raking debris into a storm drain pollutes those waters.

To view a Youtube video showing how easy Storm Drain Marking can be, click here

For more information, Click Here
To get marking, Contact Us

Thank you for being an H2O Hero.

Watershed Cleanups

H2O Heroes

Because we all live in a watershed, any debris that gets into our storm drains or local waterbodies can end up polluting the Rochester Embayment. You can help reduce this pollution by cleaning up debris along streams, ponds, bays, or the Lake Ontario shoreline. To set up a Watershed Cleanup for your group, Contact Us.

Traditionally held on a Saturday in mid-September of each year, the Annual Coastal Watershed Cleanup event in Monroe County involves hundreds of volunteers who collect thousands of pounds of debris from sites throughout local watersheds, in conjunction with the International Coastal Cleanup. For more information, and to sign up for this annual local event, go to Larry the H2O Hero on Facebook.

The International Coastal Clean Up is a global event with people from all over the world pitching in to clean their shorelines. For more information on NY State's participation in the International Coastal Clean Up, click here.

Make a Rain Barrel for Your Home

You can reduce stormwater runoff to storm drains by collecting rainwater from your home's rooftop in a rain barrel, and then use it during drier weather conditions. This collected water can be used later on lawn or decorative garden areas, which also lowers your water bill! Using rain barrels keeps sediments and other pollutants out of the storm sewer and allows them to be treated by the vegetation and microbes within the soil. Instructions for making your own rain barrel can be found below.

Rain barrels are connected directly to a downspout on your house and collect the rainwater running off the roof. A spigot near the bottom of the rain barrel allows for connection to a garden hose, or the water can be accessed by removing the top and using a container.

To estimate the amount of rainfall coming off your roof, enter the information below. Roof measurements are estimated using the outside dimensions of your house.
Roof Area = Sq. Feet Rainfall = Inches Volume of Rainwater = Gallons

How to get involved with rain barrels:

For more information on green infrastructure and rain barrels: Rain Barrel

Build a Rain Barrel:




Create a Rain Garden in Your Yard

You can reduce stormwater runoff to storm drains and improve its quality by creating vegetated areas which collect and treat rainwater runoff. Rain gardens can handle much more water than rain barrels, and provide attractive areas in your yard.

Specially designed areas planted with native plants can provide natural places for rainwater to collect and soak into the ground. Rain from rooftop areas or paved areas can be diverted into these areas rather than into storm drains.

Create a Rain Garden in your yard.

For more information on Rain Gardens:


(courtesy of Broccolo Tree & Lawn Care)

Upcoming H20 Hero Events and Workshops

For pictures and information about local H2O Heroes and Projects, visit Larry's Facebook Page!

About Us

What is the story behind H2O Hero?

In 2007, the Water Education Collaborative (WEC) set out to develop an awareness campaign that would educate the residents of the Genesee Regional Watershed of Lake Ontario about the enormous impact they can have on the water quality in our area. WEC leaders teamed up with the Stormwater Coalition of Monroe County and the Advertising Council of Rochester, a local nonprofit organization that creates awareness campaigns to address community-wide issues. The Ad Council pulled in a volunteer marketing team from SIGMA Marketing Group, and the rest is history.

Holy Hydrology!

In our world, he's Larry. In your world, H20 Hero can be your neighbor, your best friend — even YOU! Everyone has the power to be an H2O Hero, because everyone has the power to change the way things are done around the home that can directly affect our waterways. Larry is an H2O Hero. Now it's your turn. Find out how by clicking here.

What is the Water Education Collaborative?

The Water Education Collaborative (WEC) is a coalition of the following organizations that work together to increase awareness and improve water quality education in the community.

The purpose of the Collaborative is to educate people about local water quality issues and inspire them to help protect and improve water quality in the lakes and streams of the Genesee Regional Watersheds of Lake Ontario.

Download the WEC Brochure.

Why was WEC formed?

Most of the pollution in the Genesee Regional Watershed of Lake Ontario comes from storm water runoff that washes lawn and farm chemicals, road salt, soil particles and other substances from yards, roofs, and pavement. The need for public education on what people can do to make a difference was identified as a need in the Rochester Embayment Remedial Action Plan. In response, the collaborative was formed in 2001 to support educational programming.

The Mission of the Water Education Collaborative is to be an effective partnership of environmental and community organizations that advances educational programming consistent with the Rochester Embayment Remedial Action Plan and other regional water resource needs identified in the community.

What does WEC do?

The WEC uses the combined resources of its Members and Partners to:

  • Plan, coordinate and facilitate Water Quality Education Programs
  • Share resources and serve as a clearinghouse for water education programming
  • Seek resources to support programs

What is the Stormwater Coalition?

The Stormwater Coalition of Monroe County is an alliance of 29 municipalities and institutions that is totally focused on stormwater issues and which works collaboratively with its community partners to reduce stormwater pollution and protect water quality. Public education is an important part of the Coalition's strategy, because many routine homeowner activities such as lawn care, car maintenance and washing, and the disposal of household wastes, are major sources of stormwater pollution. For more information on the Coalition, click here.

Contact Us!

To become involved in H2O Hero activities or find out more about H2O Hero and the Water Education Collaborative, contact Larry the H2O Hero at his fan page on Facebook.

For information on the Water Education Collaborative, contact:
Paul M. Sawyko, Coordinator
145 Paul Road, Building 1
Rochester, NY 14624

To make a donation:*

Checks can be written to: The Water Education Collaborative

Please send your donation to:

The Water Education Collaborative ATTN: RMSC Director of Education, 657 East Avenue, Rochester NY 14607

*WEC is a 501 (c) (3) NFP organization.


Barb Coté

Illustrator and Director
David Cowles / www.davidcowles.net

Tom Cunningham

Art Director and Web Design
Richard Whitesell, SIGMA Marketing Group

Jeremy Galante / www.jeremygalante.com

Voice Talent
Dave Kyle

Market Research
BRX Global Research
Harris Interactive

Background Music Recorded
Bob Potter, Finger Lakes Community College / www.cabinfeverrecording.com

Voice Recording and Mixing
Steve Bartolotta, MarketHOLD Productions

Video Editing
Chuck Munier, Crystal Pix

Rob and Kellie Reed, Presto Largo 

Guitar and Vocals
Rob Reed

Tom Hanney / www.thewhitehots.com / www.bluespower.org

Chris Van Campen

Bass and Backing Vocals
Bruce Lish

Backing Vocals
Alison Cowles

Media Planning
Butler/Till Media Services

Rochester Embayment and Your Watershed Pages:
Panel Design and Graphics
Anne Smoral
Watershed Maps
Wayne Howard
Center for Environmental Initiatives

Special thanks to our funders:

Advertising Council of Rochester
Finger Lakes / Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance
Marie C. & Joseph C. Wilson Foundation
New York State Environmental Protection Fund
Rochester Area Community Foundation
Rochester Museum and Science Center
Stormwater Coalition of Monroe County
US Environmental Protection Agency

Thank you to our media partners:

13 WHAM/13.2 CW-WHAM
Catholic Courier
City Newspaper
Clear Channel Communications
Computer Link Magazine
Crawford Broadcasting Group
Democrat and Chronicle
Empire State Weeklies
Entercom Marketing Results Group
Freetime Magazine
Genesee Valley Parent
Genesee Valley Penny Saver
Golf Week
Lamar Advertising
Marquis Media
Messenger Post Newspapers
Monroe County Medical Society
Next Step Magazine
Rochester Business Journal
Shopping Bag Advertiser
The Daily Messenger
The Daily Record
The Minority Reporter
Time Warner Cable
WROC-TV 8 / WUHF Fox Rochester

In The Media

Rochester Embayment

Stage I Report Stage II Report
Lake Ontario LAMP Website
Water restoration information
Water restoration information

At Home Get Involved facebook

Rochester Embayment Area of Concern Remedial Action Reports

The following documents have been prepared in support of the Rochester Embayment Area of Concern Remedial Action Plan.

Stage I

Stage II


Indicator Redesignations

Selected Documents Referenced in the Rochester Embayment Remedial Action Plan

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Your Watershed

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