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.



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.   


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.

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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.

Please join us for our June meeting on Wednesday the 13th at 6:30 p.m. We meet at the Wesover Hills Library.  Our guest, Jennifer Hatchett, PE, Stormwater and Wastewater Collections Administrator for the City of Richmond, will speak about green infrastructure projects across the city.  There will be ample opportunity for questions, especially regarding the potential for projects in our watershed.

Reedy Creek Coalition provides community education, organizes tree planting and invasive removal projects, performs water monitoring, and works closely with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to perform assessments for homeowners.

If you are interested in joining any of our projects or have questions, please contact us.


storm event

Reedy Creek after a summer storm.   It doesn’t have to be like this!


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



On the next rainy day, put on your raincoat and check out your downspouts. Is there water from your roof gushing from them? If there is, congratulations, they are doing their job! A summer downpour can result in thousands of gallons of water flowing off of your roof. But have you ever wondered where all of that water ends up?

The answer is, it depends on your downspouts. Can you see water coming from the end of the downspout? If you can, does it run onto your sidewalk, patio or driveway? These surfaces are usually considered impervious, so instead of being absorbed into the ground, the rain water runs off. Depending on where you live, runoff ends up directly in a storm drain or joins runoff from neighboring properties and goes into Reedy Creek. Reedy Creek travels from Midlothian Turnpike to the James, passing through Forest Hill Lake on it’s way. Some storm drains empty directly into the James River.

Why does this matter? The number one cause of stream impairment in urban areas is stormwater runoff. Stormwater is the rain, including pollutants from the roof, fertilizer and pet waste from the yard and oil and other chemicals from the street, that runs off the roof and other impervious surfaces into the storm drains. Storm drains are not the same thing as the sanitary drains that carry household waste water to a treatment center. That means that every pollutant the water has picked up along it’s journey goes directly into the river. Not something most people want to wade, kayak, fish or swim in!

We all live in a watershed , so anything the homeowner can do to keep rain water on their property reduces the impact on our streams. Your downspouts make a difference in the amount of stormwater that remains on your property during a rain event. Water that flows off your property during a storm goes directly into the storm drain or adds to the runoff from neighboring properties. That means millions of gallons of water are running into Reedy Creek with enough force to erode stream banks and carry toxic waste, sediment and litter all the way from Midlothian Turnpike to the lake in Forest Hill Park.

How can you the, homeowner, help? Check out your downspouts, where does the water go when it rains? Does it spill onto an impervious surface, such as a brick or concrete sidewalk that directs the water into the street ? If the soil in your yard is compacted, even your lawn will contribute to storm water runoff.


A few easy adjustments can make a difference. Extend a downspout away from your foundation and direct the water to a landscaped area that will catch the rain and keep it on your property, or add a rain barrel to capture the runoff.   If your downspout goes into the ground and you are not sure where it goes, assume that it connects to a storm drain. There is a link to the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay at the end of this article for more information on how to disconnect this type of downspout.  A rain barrel attached to a downspout is an ideal way to capture storm water. The water in the barrel can be used to water landscaping or garden areas at a later time. Or, the water can be released slowly after the rain, to keep it from running into the storm drain. Ideally, the storm water should be directed into the garden, or a landscaped area, where the water is absorbed instead of running into the storm drain.

For more information:
Calculate the amount of water that is coming off of your roof:


This begins 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.

We hope you will enjoy


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


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!