April 1, 2007


Plant a seedling, restore a stream

Program aims to fight pollution, erosion

By Dugan Radwin
Poughkeepsie Journal

Vegetation along streams isn't only pretty - it also serves an important purpose.

Streamside plants benefit the environment by improving water quality, minimizing the effects of adjacent development and providing habitat for animals along the water, said Scott Cuppett, Watershed Program Coordinator for the Department of Environmental Conservation's Hudson River Estuary Program.

Tapping the beneficial effects of streamside vegetation is one of the aims of a new initiative from the Hudson River Estuary Program, which will team this April with local watershed groups to replant vegetation along local streams.

DEC Urban Forester Lou Sebesta said 1,600 seedlings will arrive in mid-April and be distributed among various local groups to plant on their chosen streams. The bushes will include dogwoods, willows and buttonbush - plants whose branches won't stop the water, but tend to slow and filter it. They will be seedlings, barely two feet tall, and watershed groups will have about a week to plant them.

Pollution reduced

Cuppett said the program aims to get people interested in the relationship between streams and the vegetation around them. He said having a corridor of vegetation along a stream can reduce the input of pollutants from adjacent sources.

"Trees and shrubs would use the nutrients, and as water flows across the surface, sediment would be trapped and a lot of nutrients are attached to soil," Cuppett said.

The plants to be used are also wildlife-friendly. Birds are drawn to the fruit of the dogwoods, and the bushes provide birds and other wildlife with shelter.

Sebesta said development along streams damages the environment because impervious surfaces - such as parking lots, roads, roofs, gutters and driveways - don't let water filter naturally into the aquifer. The water runs off rapidly from these surfaces, hitting the streams in a short amount of time and causing stream levels to rise significantly, creating turbulence.

The turbulent water has a lot of erosion power. Not only does it carry contaminants from parking lots and other impervious surfaces, it also erodes the stream banks.

"If you can plant some vegetation or restore the natural stream vegetation, the brushy nature of a lot of these streamside plants can actually help to stabilize the banks and keep them from washing out," Sebesta said.

Sebesta said the bushes allow silt to settle along the banks instead of being washed out by the turbulent water. Bushes are more effective than grass along stream banks because grass lacks the necessary root armoring.

Grass is very prone to washout and erosion because its roots are fine and don't penetrate very deeply. Because tree roots are more extensive and interlaced, they do a better job of slowing streamside erosion.

Streams adopted by watershed groups are set for replanting under the program. Cuppett said people interested in helping should contact Program Coordinator Andrew Dorsey, who can refer people to groups in their communities.

One group that will participate is the Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee, which has worked with the DEC on replanting for the last three years.

Committee Chairman Dan Troge said seedlings wouldn't be planted directly on the streamsides, but from about three feet back as far as possible into the adjacent land.

"The wider the buffer, the greater the creative potential is. ... The trees and the grasses all strain out the pollution," Troge said. He said 10 feet was minimal.

Seedlings are vulnerable

Newly planted seedlings have to be protected, because they are so small they are susceptible to hazards such as ATVs and lawnmowers. Troge said the plants take over after a couple of years.

Cuppett said the stream-planting program was a new venture that would likely expand along with development.

Troge said he expected such efforts to become increasingly important.

"With the prospect of global warming, some scientists believe there will be more radical weather, that we will have downpours and drought ... and when the [soil] dries, it becomes dust, and if there's nothing to draw water through it as a root will do, it becomes very prone to blowing away like it did in the dust bowls ... in the '20s and '30s." Building sustainable buffers on steamsides could help prevent this, he said.

Planting something, Sebesta said, is not necessarily a silver bullet because streams are sometimes at such risk, they're already being caved out from underneath. The whole bank may end up being washed out by the force of the streams and the power of the currents.

"We're doing what we can in a natural way to restore the streams to their natural state. Where it's possible, I think it certainly can help. It's one part of the picture - it's a kind of a coordinated approach," Sebesta said.

Regulations also a factor

He said regulations by communities, such as watershed laws restricting development within so many feet of streams, are another part of the process. DEC also has state wetlands restrictions on development.

Cuppett said people can protect streams on their property by keeping development away and leaving native vegetation intact.

"You don't want to put development right up against a stream," Cuppett said. "You want to set it back."

For homeowners whose streams have lost their natural buffers, seedlings are available from the county soil and water conservation districts in Ulster and Dutchess as well as the Arbor Day Foundation.

Troge said many people think a rolling lawn going right to the stream's edge is beautiful. People who enjoy living by the water may feel streamside plants would block their views, he said, but the plants can create a window into nature.

"The number one thing that a homeowner could do to stop stream erosion is not to cut to the water's edge, to let it grow natural. The benefits are more than just the erosion of the stream, you'll end up getting local wildlife. The insects will come in, but then the predators will come in, the frogs, and then there'll be a whole circle of life," Troge said.

How to help

To participate in the Hudson River Estuary Program's Riparian Buffer Planting Project, contact Program Coordinator Andrew Dorsey at 845-831-8780 ext. 327 or e-mail acdorsey@gw.dec.state.us


Copyright 2007, Poughkeepsie Journal. Reprinted with Permission.
 Watershed Home   Media Menu