Campaign drives home message that it's up to us

Bluffton's new marketing campaign to help the May River makes a strong statement on an important aspect of this endeavor: Every one of us has an impact on our local waterways, and every one of us can do something to help.

The campaign, with its motto "Neighbors for Clean Water: Our Rivers, Our Responsibility," focuses on getting pet owners to pick up their animals' waste. With help from focus groups and a steering committee, the Virginia-based company Water Words That Work is developing print advertisements, radio spots, mailings and a website. The campaign also will be on Facebook and Twitter.

If we hope to restore the May River to good health, people have to understand the cumulative impact of where and how they live in a sensitive ecosystem. This campaign could help get that message across.

It's probably safe to assume that picking up dog waste in and of itself won't restore the river, even taking into account the hundreds of thousands of pounds of dog waste estimated by town staff. Animal waste from wildlife, pets and farm animals has always been a part of the Lowcountry scene. An impaired river, with miles of oyster beds off limits to harvesting, has not.

What has changed in Bluffton and across the region are vast swaths of woods and wetlands replaced by subdivisions and commercial centers. That affects how water flows or doesn't flow across the landscape.

Each of us has to be aware of our footprint on that landscape -- in terms of paved roads and driveways and rooftops, as well as fertilizer and pesticide use on our lawns. Have we maintained natural vegetation between our activities and our waterways? What are we washing off our driveways into the streets and into our neighborhood stormwater systems? Is water running off our roofs and straight into stormwater systems.

And our understanding of our impact must not stop at the individual level. We can't content ourselves that we've done enough if we pick up our dogs' waste on our daily walks. We also must understand the collective impact of the communities we live in and our responsibility to maintain and fix systems that aren't working in the way they need to work to keep our waterways healthy. We must understand there are certain areas that should not be developed because of the potential harm to our creeks and rivers.

We also must keep up pressure on elected officials to make the hard choices that will ensure we correct past mistakes and don't repeat them in the future. Don't leave it to somebody else to make a difference.