Clean Water: Backyard Basics

Picture of water runoff
Image via Wikipedia

Clean water is everybody’s responsibility. We found this article below that shows what you can do in your own backyard to do your part.

By Jim Waltman Special to The Packet

Fourth column in an ongoing series.

When Sarah Roberts, of Montgomery, and Van Zandt Williams, of Princeton, look out at their backyards they see more than lawn and beautiful gardens — they see an oasis for local wildlife.

Using native plants and a variety of “River-Friendly Certified” strategies and techniques, Ms. Roberts and Mr. Willams have both created gardens and habitat for local wildlife — beautifying their homes while helping protect our water and environment.

“We decided to become River-Friendly (through the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association’s River- Friendly Resident Certification Program) to set an example right in Princeton Borough that you can protect rivers and water no matter where you live,” said Mr. Williams, a member of the Watershed Association’s Advisory Board.

The Watershed Association’s River-Friendly Certification Program promotes clean water and a healthy environment. The program works one-on-one with residents, businesses, golf courses and schools to improve land stewardship, reduce pollution, conserve water, restore habitat for wildlife and educate the public about becoming better environmental stewards.
Earlier this year, the Watershed Association’s State of the Watershed Report showed that as land use has shifted in our region from a more agricultural area to one with increased development, the amount of natural lands remaining are shrinking and our water quality is suffering.

As we pave and cover more of our land, increasing amounts runoff from our yards, parks, streets, sidewalks, roads and parking lots are bringing “people pollution” — things like excess fertilizers, trash, and waste from pets and leaking septic and sewer systems — to our streams and water sources. By helping preserve the natural ecology and create more wildlife habitat, we can make a difference for our water and environment.

“A lot of our neighbors’ stormwater runs through our property to get to the stream,” said Ms. Roberts, a River- Friendly Resident, member of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey and Sustainable Montgomery, and advisor to the Montgomery Township Open Space Committee. “Keeping part of our property natural and wild helps protect the waterway.”

In addition, using native plants and attracting wildlife can reduce the need for pesticides. Many species of birds, bats and insects keep harmful pest under control by preying on them. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds also help maintain healthy and diverse plant growth through pollination.

“We haven’t seen any bears, but by using native plants and providing food, shelter and different habitats we do have a great variety of wildlife,” said Ms. Roberts. “With our pond we have all kinds of frogs on the property with different calls we can identify. Sometime great blue herons will stop by in the spring or fall. Last summer we had two green herons who were regular visitors and we have a great variety of butterflies.”

At Mr. William’s home butterflies, bats and birds are regular visitors. “We’ve taken what was a vegetable garden and made it a butterfly garden,” he said. “We have a bat house on the side of our house with a family of bats that swirl around the yard doing the clean-up work before heading to the canal, and we keep our birdfeeders up year-round. With trees for shelter, the birds swoop back and forth in pretty much a continuous display.”

To promote wildlife habitat in your yard, try the following “River-Friendly” strategies:

• Plant a diversity of plant species in your yard. Vary the height of vegetation to provide good habitat conditions. Include groundcovers, flowers, low shrubs, medium-story plants and taller trees.

• Use native plants to provide food for wildlife. Contact Watershed Association Stewardship Program Coordinator Amy Weaver at aweaver@thewatershed.org for native plant resources and suggestions.

• Because most species of wildlife are very sensitive to chemicals, minimize fertilizer and pesticide use. Use a soil test before fertilizing and if needed use phosphate-free fertilizers. Use non-toxic or less-toxic forms of pest control, such as spot treating.

• Put up birdhouses and feeders. Make it difficult for rodents and predators to reach them.

• If they are not diseased or pose safety hazards, leave dead trees and trunks in your yard instead of removing them to provide locations for nesting.

• If you want to attract bats in order to control mosquitoes and other pests, put up a bat house.

• Have sources of fresh water available in your yard for wildlife. Backyard ponds, birdbaths, saucers or even stones and logs with shallow depressions to catch rainwater are excellent provisions.

• Limit activity in areas designated for wildlife habitat to minimize disturbance.
Want to see some of these strategies in action? Visit the Watershed Reserve in Hopewell. The Kate Gorrie Butterfly House offers a close-up view of how to garden to provide for native butterflies. Guided tours are offered every Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. through Aug. 16. Plus — don’t miss the 10th Annual Butterfly Festival on Saturday, Aug. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. See today’s TIMEOFF, Page 14.

Ms. Roberts has also planted a native plant garden in front of the Montgomery Township Municipal Building to highlight the importance and viability of using native plants.

“We decided to become River-Friendly because we care about the environment and wanted to take care of our stream corridor,” said Ms. Roberts. “Whether you have a big backyard or not, we can each do a little something to help.”

Jim Waltman is executive director of the Stony Brook- Millstone Watershed Association, central New Jersey’s first environmental group. Download a copy of the State of the Watershed Report at thewatershed.org. To become River-Friendly, visit thewatershed.org/ conservation/river-friendly. Our next article in the series will take a look at the issue of bacteria in our water.

If you have a pond or other waterway here is a beautiful solution that works great on waterways. Ion Exchange

Helping You create your own natural beauty

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