Monday, August 12, 2013

Shoreline and Streambank Management

Today I wanted to write about a topic that doesn't necessarily apply to everyone, but is just as important as other, more widely applicable topics.  Shoreline and streambank management aren't endeavors you can undertake if you don't live on a stream/river or coast.  However, it is still important for you to know about these things so that if you see, say, an unmanicured beach area, you know why it is important that we allow native plants to grow along the water rather than grooming beaches and shoreline areas. 

What is it?  Shoreline and streambank management use a variety strategies to keep shorelines and streambanks stable. Some of these practices include: restoring native vegetation, live staking, brush layering, and many more.  

Why do we need it? Developed shorelines and streambanks, or those without native vegetation, can contribute to a lot of problems. 

Erosion: When shorelines are developed or native plants are cleared so grass lawns give way to sandy beaches, there is an increased risk of erosion.  Usually, soil is held in place by plants and their roots.  Plants also “intercept” rain, meaning that rain hits the plants and is either absorbed or slowed down before it hits the soil.  This prevents erosion because the impact of the rain is decreased when it hits a plant first.  Waves, ice, and surface runoff have more of an impact when native vegetation is removed.

Flooding:  As native vegetation and coastal wetlands are filled, the potential for flooding increases.  Coastal wetlands “absorb” water and store it in, preventing flooding to areas further upland.  Without these natural sponges, there’s nothing to stop this water from flooding upland.  Development can also contribute to flooding through impervious area increases.  Impervious surfaces are those into which water can’t be absorbed, or infiltrate.  Roofs, driveways, roads, sidewalks, and parking lots are all examples of impervious areas.  When it rains on impervious surfaces, this water “runs off” into lakes and streams rather than soaking into the soil.

Water quality: If a lot of erosion is occurring on a shoreline/streambank, all of that sand or soil is going into the water.  Too much sediment in the water is bad for aquatic life.  Also, if you are fertilizing or using pesticides on your lawn and garden right on the water’s edge, those substances could end up in the water.  
Excess nutrients from fertilizers can lead to algal blooms.

These issues don’t just impact the water and the environment.  They can cause problems for you as well.  It’s not great for your home if the ground beneath it is eroding away or if it is regularly flooding.  Ugly algal blooms probably aren’t what you want to see out your windows, either.

What can you do to protect your shoreline/streambank?  Don’t remove native vegetation if you have it.  Make sure you know what species are native and which are invasive.  If you have invasive species, find out the most effective ways to eradicate them.  If you don’t have any native vegetation and have a lawn going to the edge of the water, you should stop mowing the lawn by the water.  Plant native plants in these areas.  Native plants are great because many of them are just as beautiful as non-native ornamental plants, they are often drought resistant, and they attract birds and other wildlife. There are other strategies for streambank/shoreline management, so see the links below for more information.

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

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