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City of Salem Home > Residents > Clean Streams

Clean Streams, Clear Choices

Learn About Keeping Our Water Clean

Learn about practical ways you can make a positive difference while caring for your lawn and garden, washing your car, performing automotive maintenance, disposing of litter and household wastes, making home improvements, or caring for pets and wildlife in Clean Streams, Clear Choices: A Guide for Salem Residents.

There are a thousand little things you can do to make a big difference, and they aren't hard to do. You are probably already doing some! Why not Take the Pledge! to protect our watershed?



Why Trees Matter

Tall tree

Trees help absorb stormwater and cool down our city in the warmer months.

Trees intercept rain with their leaves, branches, and trunks. Rain that reaches the soil around trees is filtrated and is absorbed through the trees' roots. It has been estimated that trees reduce runoff and erosion from storms by about 7 percent. This means less pollution is carried to our streams.

Trees along streams are especially important for streambank stabilization. They also provide shade, keeping water cool for fish and other wildlife. Native trees and plants are particulary important, since they are adapted to Oregon's climate and are naturally resistant to a variety of local pests and diseases.

How You Can Help

Plant a tree in your yard, especially near your driveway, where it can help reduce stormwater runoff.

Work with your neighbors or neighborhood association to beautify your street with trees. You can contact the City of Salem's Urban Forester for assistance in selecting and planting street trees.

 Lawns & Gardens

Why Lawns and Gardens Matter

Chemicals used on lawns and gardens can pollute local streams, even if you don't have a creek on your property. Pesticides and fertilizers can be carried through storm drains and into waterways when it rains. These chemicals can harm plants and animals living in or near streams.

Boy playing with dog on grass

There are great alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides that make lawns safer for pets and people.

How You Can Help

Use Alternatives to Chemicals for Your Yard and Lawn

Thankfully, there are many effective and low-cost alternatives to pesticides and harsh chemical fertilizers that are healthier for your household and the environment.

Pesticide Alternatives

Use non-toxic sprays, oils, and soaps instead of hazardous chemicals to deter pests from plants. Spray aphids with a garden hose, use sticky tape to keep root weevils from climbing rhododrens, and pick up and discard snails and slugs. Use cleaned egg and oyster shells around plants to keep slugs and snails away. Remove standing water to reduce habitat for mosquitos.

Herbicide Alternatives

Pull weeds often when they are young. You can pour boiling water on young weeds, or use a propane torch called a flame weeder on paths and patios, but only if conditions are not too dry. Mulches and corn gluten are great for keeping weeds from sprouting in the first place.

Alternatives to Synthetic Fertilizers

Mulch protects plans from disease and prevents the loss of water and nutrients. Leaving short grass trimmings after mowing the lawn is an easy way of mulching. Composted manure from barnyards or compost from plant-based kitchen or yard waste can provide soil nutrients. Aerate your lawn every four years to pull out plugs of dirt and grass and allow air and water in.

How to Naturescape

  1. Make a site plan. Identify existing trees and plants, soil drainage, size limitations, sun exposure, and other conditions.
  2. Develop your naturescaping plan. Select native plants that match your yard's opportunities.
  3. Remove any invasive plant species.
  4. Plant native plants and trees. The best time to plant is in late fall or early spring.

Consider Native Plants and Trees Instead of Lawn

Many people have enjoyed the results of replacing their lawn, or even just part of it, with naturescaping. Naturescaping is practical and beautiful landscaping that uses native plants adapted to the Pacific Northwest climate. Compared to native plants, ordinary lawns have shallow roots and are less effective at slowing and absorbing stormwater runoff.

Native plants require less care because they are adapted to our mild, wet winters and dry summers. They are often more resistant to local blights and pests, and they require less water than other plants.


Why Erosion Control Matters

Soil erosion can cause loss of property, property damage, and flooding for homeowners and landowners. It is also a source of pollution that muddies local streams and can cause bank failure and loss of habitat for fish and other wildlife.

When Do I Need an Erosion Control Permit?

Erosion control permits are generally required for ground-disturbing activities over 2,000 square feet. Prior to beginning any of these activities, residents should contact Public Works Development Services staff at 503-588-6211 for more information about erosion control permits.

Some large projects require an erosion and sedimentation control plan prepared by a qualified professional.

How You Can Help

Erosion issues are most common for residents who live next to a stream, but it can also occur from any yard that has bare dirt. Exposed soil can be washed into the street and into the storm drain system. Take precautions to prevent erosion whenever you are repairing water lines, adding a home addition, landscaping, or doing anything else that involves moving dirt.

Native flower garden

A well-planned landscape not only helps reduce erosion, but it also keeps pollutants that are bound to soil in place.


Why Pets and Wildlife Matter

Many Salem pet owners are thoughtful about picking up after their pets and know that pet waste can make people and other pets ill. But did you know that pet waste also affects water quality? Pet waste left on the ground pollutes Salem's waterways. In fact, many of Salem's streams have elevated levels of E. coli—harmful bacteria from the waste of animals including dogs, cats, waterfowl, and other birds.

Pet waste in streams causes even further harm. Like a fertilizer, pet waste increases the amount of nutrients in streams, and when it decays in the water, it takes away oxygen that is vital to fish and other aquatic animals. Pet waste pollution is a triple threat to our waterways.

Many people enjoy feeding waterfowl like ducks and geese, but feeding them bread and other human foods is bad for their health and for the environment. Wild birds are not well-adapted to a diet of bread and grain, and they can become sick and overweight.

Feeding birds is not only harmful to them, but it is also harmful to water quality. Attracting birds in large numbers increases bacteria levels from their waste.

How You Can Help

Whether in a park or your neighborhood, pick up pet waste right away and throw it in the garbage. Leaving it on the ground, even for a little while, can harm waterways when it rains. Dispose of pet waste in the trash, not the yard waste bin or compost pile.

Secure garbage and pet food to avoid attracting wildlife. Instead of feeding the ducks, learn to birdwatch. The best thing you can do to help birds and other wildlife is to create a backyard habitat using native plants. Native plants can provide the proper food source for wildlife.

Help spread the word! Join the Capital Canine Club to share the love of your pet and your community.

 Household Waste

Why Household Hazardous Wastes Matter

Common hazardous materials found in many households include paints, stains, motor oil, solvents, pesticides, and some cleaners. When used or disposed of improperly, these chemicals and substances can harm people and the environment.

Never pour hazardous waste down a storm drain, your sink, or your toilet. Wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to handle these substances. Spilled hazardous materials can end up in the soil polluting groundwater, rivers, and streams.

How You Can Help

Avoid Hazardous Wastes in the First Place

Some jobs for which harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals are used can be done effectively and more safely using non-toxic alternatives. Common household supplies like baking soda, vinegar, salt, club soda, olive oil, and rubbing alcohol are effective for many cleanning tasks. Download the Hazardless Home Handbook for some great ideas.

Dispose of Hazardous Wastes Properly

Some items like paint and oil can be recycled at the curb. Other items need to be taken to the proper local disposal facility. Hazardous wastes should be disposed of at facilities designed to handle them. Do not leave old chemicals and solvents lying around where they might be spilled or misused.

Salem residents can dispose of many types of hazardous wastes for free at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility located at the Salem-Keizer Transfer Station at 3250 Deer Park Drive SE in Salem.


 Watershed Grants


Red flowering currant, a beautiful native plant loved by hummingbirds.

Watershed Grants Available to City Residents

Did you know that all Salem residents are eligible to receive grant funding to assist with local projects that protect or improve the health of our watersheds? Restoration activities that remove invasive vegetation and enhance native plantings along local streams are acceptable grant proposals.

In 2001, the City Council approved a grant program for protecting and preserving watersheds. The purpose of the program is to provide small grants for volunteer and educational organizations to create innovative projects that involve as much of the community as possible. Grants can be awarded to government agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals.

To learn more, read the Watershed Protection and Preservation Grant Program Application and Instructions (pdf).

Do you have questions or want to find out about more volunteer activities? We would love to help! Contact our stormwater outreach team at

The Clean Streams, Clear Choices program celebrates and encourages the protection of the Willamette River and the nearly 90 miles of streams that flow through Salem. Most people in Salem live within a mile of a stream or river, but may not know it. They might not even realize how their everyday actions could pollute local streams. The solution to water pollution starts with you, and the Clean Streams, Clear Choices program was designed to help residents learn simple steps to prevent water pollution by protecting our streams from contaminated stormwater.

Clean Streams, Clear Choices logo

Take the Pledge!

After learning about practical ways you can help, Take the Pledge! to protect our watershed.

Fill out your answers on the brief form card, and return it to:

Natural Resources Outreach Specialist
City of Salem Public Works Department
555 Liberty Street SE Room 325
Salem OR 97301

You can conserve paper by submitting your pledge card via e-mail after filling in the fields. Select the "Submit" button to email the form to our team at

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