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Sunday, October 2, 2022
Keeping it Green Full stream ahead: Preparing our creeks for spring

The snow is gone and April rain is soon to bring spring flowers, but there can be downstream effects when all of this water flows through town.

The health of any aquatic environment depends on conditions in its watershed: the surrounding area that collects and directs precipitation and groundwater to the waterway.

Land use in watersheds affects water quality, volume and wildlife in streams.

One Mile Creek and Two Mile Creek both meander through Old Town neighbourhoods, mostly on private property. As a result, the town isn't able to widely implement solutions to improve the stream's health.

So, it's up to neighbours to understand how their actions affect local water quality.

Many local watersheds are already urbanized and development around streams means precipitation doesn't easily seep into the soil. Because of impermeable surfaces like roads, driveways and roofs, large volumes of water run over pavement into storm grates.

This means the creek is more likely to overflow during storms and erode the banks or flood buildings and basements. It helps to increase the amount of permeable area, for example by installing walkways with smaller stones instead of concrete.

Stormwater and snowmelt also pick up sediment, automotive oil, fertilizer, road salt and pet waste. Some aquatic species can't survive when water gets too salty and high nutrient levels from fertilizers can lead to harmful algae blooms in lakes.

Blue-green algae blooms, which are dangerous to humans and pets, caused the closure of several Niagara beaches last summer.

Homes that back on to a stream can make a big difference by using more naturalized gardens near the banks, instead of lawn area. And, if water is pooling in a section of the lawn, it can be an opportunity for some strategic landscaping.

Low-impact development techniques that slow runoff and allow it to be absorbed before reaching the stream are especially helpful.

For example, green roofs, installing rain gardens in ponded areas and soakaway trenches with gravel can all help to reduce overland flow.

Many folks backing onto creeks prefer to remove wild plants and maintain a manicured lawn up to the edge of the bank. But leaving a diverse mix of native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs make valuable riparian buffers.

These strips of vegetation help reduce bank erosion, because plant roots hold the soil in place. A buffer also slows and absorbs excess water before it enters the creek and helps soak up contaminants.

The native plants attract pollinators and support biodiversity, like butterflies and birds, or bats and dragonflies that keep mosquito populations down.

Buffers also can prevent Canada geese from accessing your property, because geese do not like to walk through tall vegetation.

The simplest way to establish a pollinator garden or riparian buffer is to just stop mowing an area of lawn. It might look messy at first, but wildflowers and grasses will start to sprout or you can introduce some new plantings.

There are several subsidies available, including the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority's restoration program, which will fund up to 75 per cent of this type of project.

Instead of going with the flow, now is the perfect time to make some small shifts that have big benefits for the health of our lake and streams.

Kyra Simone is a green-at-heart NOTL resident with master's degrees in biology and science communication. In her spare time, she advocates for sustainable change, picks up litter, makes recycled jewelry, and transforms furniture bound for the landfill.