By Patrice Donnelly, Hickory Ridge Watershed Advisory Committee
Healthy streams are a necessary component of a thriving, stream ecosystem. Flora and fauna habitat are integral to our healthy streams, promote biodiversity and provide natural beauty surrounding our homes and businesses. Outdoor recreational opportunities and effective planning to improve our environment and the community at large will often require monitoring, restoring and maintaining healthy streams.
Healthy streams also have a positive impact on the larger water bodies to which they are tributaries. Water bodies, including streams, rivers, lakes, bays and oceans, exist within watersheds. Watersheds are the land areas that surround water bodies and provide drainage into and out of the water body. They are defined in scope by the water body to which they refer (i.e., the Patuxent River Watershed, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed) and therefore may encompass one or more political entities (e.g., village, city, county, state, regional).
Rain water, storm water run-off and other human-engineered sources of water and fluids (including chemicals) infiltrate the land mass and eventually impact the water bodies. In Hickory Ridge the immediate water bodies are our streams and the Middle Patuxent and Little Patuxent Rivers. Debris can also find its way into the streams and rivers, causing negative impacts.
In some communities infiltration can have a direct impact on ground water sourced for drinking through private well systems (CDC, 2014). In Columbia, our public drinking water is supplied through several reservoirs that are part of the Big Gunpowder Falls, Patapsco, Patuxent and Potomac River Watersheds (The Nature Conservancy, 2015).
We want rain water and storm water infiltration as a part of good storm water management practices to Slow the Flow (Carson, 2010). Infiltration helps to reduce erosion. Yet, we also need to be well-informed and careful about chemical products that go into the watershed, such as lawn fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, household toxins, automobile fluids, paint and more, referred to as nonpoint source pollution (EPA, 2014). Whatever goes into our streams has the potential to impact the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed, of which our local watersheds are a part. Two of our larger primary concerns with stream health, therefore, are the immediate health of the local environment and also the State of the Bay (CBF, 2014).
Maintaining and restoring healthy streams involves a web of biological and geo-political interactions and a high degree of complexity.
What can we do together this Spring to promote healthy streams?
Three helpful practices that are easy for our village residents to do, take little time (in the big picture) and can be done with whatever level of cost and effort you are comfortable, are listed below:
March 21, 2015. CA Clean-Up Day. Photos by Patrice Donnelly.
- Help keep the streams free of debris.
A few weeks ago, many brave and enthusiastic village volunteers and friends, joined together as part of the Columbia Association (CA) Clean-up Day (March 21, 2015). We walked through the snow on a cloudy, cold morning, to pick up litter along a segment of our CA pathways that follows one of our beautiful streams. We found soccer balls, golf balls, baseballs, an iPod, a biking helmet, parts of a car – we are definitely a community that is on the go! We also picked up the small litter, particularly the colorful pieces that are attractive to birds, turtles and other wild life. Small litter is a BIG problem worldwide. Tiny, glittery, colorful pieces of plastic that we consider miniscule often float on the water. They are perfect sized morsels for unsuspecting wildlife who are attracted to the unusual colors. If they ingest enough, they die — in part because their bodies aren’t built to digest plastics and in part due to accumulated harmful heavy metals that may attach to the plastics (Alberts, 2014).
After we bagged up quite a bit of debris – both the interesting and the mundane – CA employees hauled it away for us. At the end of the event, village employees handed out snacks and more water, while retrieving our clean-up gear. It was a team effort.
Over the spring and summer – and anytime during the year – if you meet volunteers in neon jackets with our village or CA name-tags, picking up trash, feel free to stop and ask how you can help out and join us again next year for the CA Clean-Up Day.
March 21, 2015. CA Clean-Up Day. Photos by Patrice Donnelly.
- Pull invasive species and plant native plants.
This weekend, we will all be joining together again to pull invasive species from our walkways and streams and plant native plants. In general, if a plant is non-native AND invasive, we will consult with botanists and other experts to determine if the plant should be removed, because in most cases a non-native, invasive plant will not be conducive to protecting our ecosystems and promoting biodiversity. Furthermore, it might fail to reduce erosion and slow the flow of storm water.
Note that another related part of the Slow the Flow campaign includes dedicated tree plantings, as they are a cost effective way to enhance storm-water management (CA Communications, 2012). Tree planting, particularly native tree planting, also protects ecosystems and promotes biodiversity.
On Sunday April 19th, between 12 pm and 3 pm, along the same CA pathway and stream that we cleaned in March, we will conduct a pull and plant with CA Watershed Manager, John McCoy and Howard County Invasive Species Expert, David Rogner. Dave is also a founder of Pick-Up America 2012-2013 (PUA, 2015). All are welcome to join in this effort. Groups are encouraged to register in advance. Rain date is the following Sunday, April 26th.
- Gain more knowledge about our local environment.
On Sunday, May 24th between 4pm and 6pm, we will walk along the walkway that abuts the stream where our community members have picked up debris and planted native plants and we will talk about the condition of the stream in general, the flora and fauna, the wildlife habitat and whatever else you would like to discuss, so we can all learn more while we enjoy a spring afternoon together. (Rain does not cancel.) John McCoy, CA Watershed Manager will be joining us. All are welcome.
Contact the village office for more information on any of the above events at (410) 730-7327.
OVER THE SPRING AND SUMMER, the Watershed Advisory Committee at the village will look more closely at several best storm water management and water conservation practices in upcoming blog posts, including bio-retention cells, grassy swales, rain barrels, permeable parking areas, underground irrigation systems, xeriscaping and more.
Patrice Donnelly is a member of the Hickory Ridge Village Association Watershed Advisory Committee and is currently completing an MBA in Sustainability and General Management.
References and Resources
Alberts, Claire Elizabeth. (2014). Plastic ingestion killing Shearwaters: But not for the reason you might think. Audubon. Retrieved from http://www.audubon.org/magazine/may-june-2014/plastic-ingestion-killing-shearwaters
CA Communications. (2012). Planting trees in Columbia to slow the flow. [blog]. Retrieved from https://catodayblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/planting-trees-in-columbia-to-slow-the-flow/
Carson, L. (2010). John McCoy – New advocate for Columbia’s ailing watershed. Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-07-17/news/bs-ho-watershed-mccoy-20100718_1_watershed-lake-kittamaqundi-plans-for-town-center
CBF. (2015). State of the Bay 2014. Retrieved from http://www.cbf.org/about-the-bay/state-of-the-bay-report-2014
CDC. (2014). Drinking Water. Private Water Wells. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/
EPA. (2014). Managing Urban Runoff. Water: Polluted Runoff. Retrieved from http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/urban.cfm
The Nature Conservancy. (2015). Where does your water come from? Retrieved from http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/habitats/riverslakes/placesweprotect/where-does-your-water-come-from.xml
PUA. (2015). About. Retrieved from http://www.pickupamerica.org/#/home