Urban Stream Syndrome

hipwader

Reedy Creek suffers from Urban Stream Syndrome.   

You can help!

Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that are found naturally in the environment.  However, a lot of human activities create excesses of these nutrients.   For example, the fertilizers you might put on your lawn or garden or the detergent you use to wash your car each probably contain nitrogen and phosphorus in some form.  Pet waste contains nitrogen and phosphorus too.  When these things wash into stormwater drains, they ultimately end up in our creeks and steams.   There, either of two things can happen.  If it‘s just a little bit of nutrients, and the water flows slowly through the environment, plants and microbes can take care of the nutrients, changing them into forms that are harmless to the environment.

Unfortunately, a lot of streams in our cities suffer from “Urban Stream Syndrome”.  This could mean that the water does not flow slowly (maybe it’s been channelized) or that the amount of nutrient input is just too much for the plants and microbes to handle.  Those nutrients ultimately end up in our nation’s coastal areas, including the Chesapeake Bay.  Here, those excess nutrients affect the habitability of the water for other species by causing harmful algal blooms and “dead zones” of water with low oxygen.

Over several months during Fall 2016, students from the University of Richmond studied Reedy Creek for a Microbial Ecology class.  They found that the creek shows a lot of the characteristics of urban stream syndrome, including high numbers of indicator bacteria, high nitrogen levels, and low levels of dissolved oxygen.  However, they also found that after the water passed through Crooked Branch Ravine Park and approached its merger with the James River, levels of at least one chemical containing nitrogen (nitrate) declined to a normal level.  What this means is that the microbes and plants in the park were doing their job!

Within urban environments, natural areas can provide us with “ecosystem services” like reducing nutrients in stormwater.  It’s up to us, however, to make sure we don’t overwhelm the system. We can do this by planting rain gardens that absorb stormwater, picking up pet waste, and by thinking about what we let wash into the storm drains.  We can also advocate for sensible and forward-thinking urban planning that incorporates as much nature as possible

Dr. Amy Treonis, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Richmond

…..

The Hip Waders Journal is a series of posts about watershed issues with suggestions for how to improve water quality and support the local ecosystem right from your own yard.  Click the link for easy access to all posts.

 

The Problem with Lawns

hipwader

Did you know that lawns cover nearly 10% of the Chesapeake Bay watershed?  And turf grass covers a much higher percentage of the land in many urban and suburban areas.  Unfortunately, all of this lawn is a major source of water quality problems in Reedy Creek as well as the Chesapeake Bay.

Why do lawns have a negative impact on water quality?  Consider a lawn that is managed by frequent mowing and always kept cut at a low height.  During the hot and dry weeks of the summer, the lawn dries out and the soil becomes hard.  When a thunderstorm finally provides some relief, much of the water from the hard-driving rain runs off the lawn because the ground acts more like concrete than soil.  So the first consequence of lawns is that they can contribute a lot of stormwater that reaches Reedy Creek very quickly.  In turn, this leads to streambank erosion and harms aquatic life.  Second, as stormwater runs across a lawn, it can pick up a variety of pollutants (e.g. soil particles, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, dog poop) that damage Reedy Creek as well as the James River and Chesapeake Bay.

What can you do to prevent degradation of Reedy Creek from lawns?  The first step is to manage your lawn to minimize potential impacts to water quality.  Do not cut the grass on a strict schedule.  Mow the grass when it reaches a height of approximately 4 inches and use the highest setting on your mower.  Taller grass shades out weeds, promotes deeper root growth, and reduces evaporation.  That means the lawn will not turn into “concrete” as quickly and will do a better job of infiltrating stormwater (i.e. reducing polluted runoff).  To minimize pollutants, eliminate the use of toxic chemicals; quickly repair any bare spots that could release soil particles; and use the minimum amount of fertilizers, preferably organic fertilizers such as compost and mulched/shredded leaves.  (Now that the city is not picking up leaves, this is a great way to make them disappear!)  Organic fertilizers provide nutrients over a long period of time as well as improve the soil.  Lastly, leave the grass clippings on the lawn to recycle the nutrients and help build the soil.

The second step you can take to prevent degradation of Reedy Creek from lawns is to replace unnecessary grassy areas with native plants that have existed in the Richmond area for millennia.  Any combination of native grasses, perennial flowers, shrubs, and trees will provide greater environmental benefits than lawn.  This is because the root systems of these plants grow much deeper into the soil than turf grasses, sometimes reaching depths greater than ten feet.  These plants can reach all of the water and nutrients they need once established.  No need for watering or fertilizers or toxic chemicals that can runoff into Reedy Creek.

There is one more critical benefit of replacing lawn areas with native plants.  Lawns are virtual “biological deserts” – very few insects, birds, amphibians, etc.  Have you noticed that the most frequent birds in most urban yards are European starlings and house sparrows?  Both species are native to Europe and don’t even belong in Richmond.  By contrast, areas with native plantings will draw a host of native birds including gray catbirds, brown thrashers, rufous-sided towhees, and white-breasted nuthatches – not to mention winter visitors like white-throated sparrows, juncos, and cedar waxwings.  In short, native plants provide all of the resources needed to support a thriving food web from butterflies to bees to birds.

For a humorous look at lawns, check out the following short piece: http://www.wildlifegardeners.org/forum/dead-lawn-society-healthier-choice-gardeners/8124-st-francis-explaining-grass.html.

For a more detailed exploration about the benefits of replacing lawn with native plants, visit the following website: http://content.yardmap.org/learn/removing-lawn-to-make-way-for-more-habitat/?utm_source=Cornell+Lab+eNews&utm_campaign=d15849e6ff-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_09&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_47588b5758-d15849e6ff-278116725

 

front yard
Lawn once occupied this space where native species now benefit bees butterflies, birds & others.
back yard
Replace grassy areas with trees, shrubs and perennials.  Keep only the lawn you really need.   

Is Part of Your Yard in Reedy Creek?

hipwader

What do you think of when you hear about polluted streams or rivers? For most people fertilizers, pesticides, and petroleum products come to mind, but soil particles that wash in to the stream are also a significant source of pollution and can change the entire ecology of a stream.

• Light is blocked, aquatic plants don’t grow.
• Habitat is destroyed when sediment fills the spaces between rocks where the smallest organisms live. Small fish and others have no place to hide from predators.
• Food sources, both plant an animal, are limited.
• The once complex ecosystem of the stream becomes simple; there is little diversity. Organisms that are tolerant of these conditions predominate; sensitive organisms may be completely lost.
• This affects the terrestrial food web as well.

This is what has happened in Reedy Creek and most other urban streams. Human activities cause much more erosion than would occur naturally.  Habitat has been degraded and we no longer find the diversity of organisms that would exist in a healthy stream, including the stonefly nymph featured on our logo.  If you live in the Reedy Creek watershed, there is good chance that a little of your yard has washed down to Reedy Creek, the lake in Forest Hill Park, and the James River. The contribution from your property may not seem significant,  but the cumulative effect from residential properties has a big impact on local streams and beyond. Here’s how you can help…

• Look for evidence of erosion on your property, especially bare patches of ground on slopes or near driveways and walks.
• If the problem is caused by water running from a downspout or impervious surface during a rain, redirect or capture that water.
• Reduce erosion potential by planting these areas with perennials, shrubs, or trees. The roots of plants will help hold the soil. Shrubs and trees are best where possible and native species are always best.
• Do everything you can to keep rain water on your property.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Even if your yard doesn’t appear to have a problem, water that leaves your property often ends up in your local stream, causing erosion or picking up sediment on its way to the stream and contributing to stream bank erosion once it gets there.

Help bring the stonefly back to Reedy Creek.

RIP invasive plants!

We have decided to cancel this project due to the forecast for thunderstorms and many mosquitos in the work area.   Hopefully we can reschedule soon.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Crooked Branch Ravine Park, a small park on the south side of Richmond, is home to a diverse urban forest, some lovely native shrubs and perennials, and the critters that depend on such places.  Many of these plants are threatened by non-native, invasive species.  We can either do something to change the situation or we will eventually lose both the canopy and understory layers.

Maintaining a healthy canopy also allows more rain water to stay where it falls; this reduces runoff (and therefore the possibility of flooding downstream) and improves water quality.  Another important reason to care for this little patch of forest in our urban watershed.

Please join us for invasive plant removal!

  • Sunday,  June 3 from 1-3 p.m.
  • Bring gloves and hand clippers.  An old screwdriver is sometimes helpful for removing ivy from trees; we will show you how.
  • Bring your own water.
  • Bring insect repellant.
  • Bring a friend!

Map to meeting site

hickory canopy
HELP THE CANOPY LIVE LONG AND PROSPER

The Reedy Creek Logo: What does it mean?

hipwader

Our Reedy Creek logo is very simple, but says a lot about what we think is important.

rccfinal1

The leaf over the top represents canopy as well as understory shrubs and trees, perennials, and other plants.  A healthy canopy, composed primarily of species native to the area, protects streams, improves water quality,  cools the air in summer, and provides life support services for animals from insects to mammals.

The blue at the bottom represents the stream, of course.  A healthy stream should be clear, not muddy; rocky streams such as our should have clean bottoms with little silt and should be free of obvious green algae during warm weather

The stonefly in the middle represents what’s missing from Reedy Creek because of human activity.  This insect lives in water during its nymphal stage* and requires good water quality to survive.  We have changed the entire ecology of the stream!

nymph is the immature form of some invertebrates, particularly insects, which undergoes gradual metamorphosis  before reaching its adult stage.

Please stay tuned for more! 

Invasive Plant Removal: Why does your local watershed group think this is important?

Crooked Branch Ravine Park acts like a sponge, soaking up rain water and keeping it where it falls.  It is also home to many native plants that support wildlife, including warblers and other song birds on their long migrations.

CBR map
The circle indicates the approximate location of Crooked Branch Ravine Park.

Protecting areas like this will help keep the rain where it falls and help improve water quality; this need is great in urban areas with lots of impervious surface.   Unfortunately, this little park has many non-native, invasive plants and over time they will threaten the tree canopy (natures’ best invention for capturing rain water).  And, as native species are lost so is the diversity that supports wildlife.

This is important work. We would appreciate your help.

  • Sunday,  May 6 from 1 – 3 p.m.  or as long as you can stay.
  • Bring gloves and hand clippers.  An old screwdriver is sometimes helpful for removing ivy from trees; we will show you how.
  • We do ask that you bring your own water.
  • Bring a friend!

Map to meeting site

Invasive Removal in Crooked Branch Ravine Park

Please join us as we continue invasive removal in Crooked Branch Ravine Park.    The buds on trees and shrubs there are just about to burst and will then provide berries and nuts for the critters as well as food for caterpillars.

Moth and butterfly eggs are laid on the plants that the caterpillars of that species will eat; the great majority need natve plants and some of them are picky eaters, requiring certain species.  The caterpillars become the primary food source for baby birds.  No caterpillars, no baby birds.  If the non-native plants are allowed to continue their rampant growth, we will loose many of the plants, including large trees, and the area will not be able to sustain the year round residents and migrant birds that depend on it.

This is important work and we would really appreciate your help.

  • Sunday,  April 8  from 1 – 3 p.m.  or as long as you can stay.
  • Bring gloves and hand clippers.  An old screwdriver is sometimes helpful for removing ivy from trees; we will show you how.
  • We do ask that you bring your own water.
  • Bring a friend!
  • If you have never done this type of work before we will glady show you what to do.

Map to meeting site

hickory buds
Hickory buds are ready to pop!

Help Save Crooked Branch Ravine Park

This beautiful little green space along Reedy Creek provides food and shelter to birds and other wildlife, is home to some native plants that are no longer common in the city, and helps protect water quality by acting like a sponge during rain events.  Sounds pretty important, doesn’t it?  The problem is that English ivy and other invasive plants are rampant in some areas and habitat is being destroyed.  That is why we need your help!

Please come help us remove ivy from the ground and from trees…

  • Sunday, February 18 from 1 – 4 p.m.  If you can only stay an hour, that’s OK.  Every hour counts.
  • Bring gloves and hand clippers.  An old screwdriver is sometimes helpful for removing ivy from trees; we will show you how.
  • We do ask that you bring your own water.
  • The temperature should be in the mid 50s and comfortable for working outside.

Map to meeting site

Bluberry flower CBR
Vaccinium species (blueberries for the birds) are found in some areas of Crooked Branch where English ivy has not yet covered the ground. 

 

Invasive Plant Removal: Crooked Branch Ravine Park

UPDATE:  Snow makes for wet gloves and cold hands and so, we have decided to reschedule the invasive removal project to next Sunday, Dec 17.  Hope you can come. ice in the creek 2

  • Please  join us on Sunday, December 17,  from 1 – 4 p.m.  Only have an hour to spare?  That’s quite alright.  Every little bit helps. 
  • We will meet at the end of Northrop Street where there is a path into the park.MAP
  • Bring gloves, pruners, and, if you have one, a small saw for cutting large ivy vines.
  • Cool weather is a great time for this kind of work.  Dress warm and join in the fun.

Here are just a few pictures of this lovely. little park.  Please help save the native plants of Crooked Branch Ravine.  Without your help them may be gone forever.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Saving the Native Plants of Crooked Branch Ravine Park

Reedy Creek and a small tributary, Crooked Branch, flow through Crooked Branch Ravine Park.  This small, passive park is home to many native trees, shrubs, and perennials that could be lost to advancing invasive plant species, particularly English ivy and privet.  Reedy Creek Coalition members are planning to have a workday once each month to remove invasive species.  Our efforts will focus on 1) removing ivy from trees and other plants that are significant sources of seed and 2) monitoring and removing small patches of non-native plants and seedlings from an area that is not yet severely impacted.

  • Please consider joining us on Sunday, April 2 from 1-3 p.m.
  • We will meet at the end of Northrop Street where there is a path into the park.
  • Bring gloves, pruners, and, if you have one, a small saw for cutting large ivy vines.

 

Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) is leafing out and just starting to set some buds.  This plant is fairly common in this little patch of woods.