Editor's note:

Amy Dabbs' column will return soon. Meanwhile, her colleagues will write about Clemson Extension programs in the Lowcountry. Today, C. Guinn Garrett writes about floating wetlands/ pond management for home- owners.

According to recent work funded through the Ashley Cooper Stormwater Education Consortium, more than 6,000 stormwater ponds exist in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.

These types of ponds are designed to receive runoff from our streets and yards, protecting our homes from flooding, trapping sediment and pollutants and preventing them from making their way downstream.

However, without proper maintenance, stormwater ponds can release pollutants to the waterways that we use for our drinking water, fishing, swimming and boating. Clemson Extension and Carolina Clear have developed a website that provides owners with the knowledge needed to inspect and manage their stormwater ponds, which may be found by searching online for “Clemson stormwater ponds.” Communities and pond owners also can be proactive in keeping stormwater ponds healthy. This spring, be the example for your community by following these simple steps in your yard to help minimize your impact on stormwater pollution. Remember, each change you make is a step toward keeping our waterways clean!

Be wise when you fertilize. There's a reason Ashley Phosphate Road has that name. Did you know that many of our coastal soils contain high amounts of phosphorous, a nutrient also commonly found in fertilizers? Overapplication of fertilizers on land can contribute to polluted runoff and problems in our ponds and waterways, including algal blooms and fish kills.

Before you fertilize, make sure you have a soil test performed to determine your lawn or garden needs. When applying fertilizer, always follow label directions and avoid application before heavy storms. Be sure any unused fertilizer is properly sealed. Visit www.clemson.edu/agsrvlb/interest.htm for information on Clemson Extension's inexpensive soil test service.

If you live on a pond or waterway, establish a vegetated buffer. Turf grass roots are shallow and offer little support against erosion from wave action and changing water levels. Instead, establish a buffer around your shoreline that uses native plants to stabilize soil and prevent property loss, while also deterring nuisance wildlife and minimizing the need for pesticide or fertilizer application. If buffer planting is not an option, consider establishing a 10-20 foot “no spray” zone along your shoreline to help prevent the likelihood of fertilizer or pesticides from entering the water. Visit Carolina Clear's website at www.clemson.edu/public/carolinaclear and check our “H2Ownership” factsheets for information on buffer design, native plant selection, and more.

When “doody” calls, pick it up. Yikes! According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, more than 10,000 pounds of pet waste are produced in the Charleston area per day. Pet waste is not only a stinky nuisance, but can be a significant contributor of bacteria and pathogens to waterways. Keep your yard and sidewalk tidy by picking up and properly disposing of pet waste. Your pond (and shoes) will thank you.

Reuse or compost your grass clippings. Grass clippings blown into streets or storm drains result in clogged pipes, flooding and poor water quality. Remember, only rain should go down the storm drain. Compost your clippings or leave them in place as a low-cost way to return beneficial nutrients to the soil.

Install a rain garden or rain barrel. Don't let water from your roof's downspouts go to waste. Instead of sending it to the storm drain, use that water in your home landscape. Save money on your water bill by installing a rain barrel to capture and store runoff for watering your flower garden. Or divert water from your downspout to a rain garden to allow water to soak into the soil while adding an attractive and self-sustaining feature to your yard.

Keep the good guys in your yard. Regularly check your garden and lawn for the first signs of pest infestations. If you find a problem, properly identify the culprit before treating and keep in mind that some bugs are beneficial in the garden. Try good old-fashioned elbow grease to pull weeds or remove problem insects. If needed, use low-toxic chemical alternatives, such as insecticidal soaps, to spot treat. Call your local Extension office for help identifying and treating questionable weed or insect problems. In Charleston, call 722-5940; Dorchester County, 832-0135 in the Summerville area or 563-0135 in the St. George area; or Berkeley County, 719-4140.

For information on some of the practices mentioned here, visit the Ashley Cooper Stormwater Education Consortium at www.ashleycooper.org or email cggarre@clemson.edu.

C. Guinn Garrett is a water resources agent for Carolina Clear and Clemson University Cooperative Extension.