BEFRIENDING A RIVER
When you use a river for recreation, you get to know the river. The relationship you have with the river helps you see how you can befriend the river. The Pecatonica River Water Trail was recognized by the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar as a model for the “America’s Great Outdoors Rivers” initiative. (see Journal-Standard August 14, 2012) In the last decade, many volunteers have actively been addressing the water quality of the Pecatonica River that flows through Stephenson County.
Many groups have been learning more about riparian habitats on the stream banks and shores of the river. Clean up efforts to remove trash from the river have succeeded well thanks to volunteers young and old. Wherever you live and work and play, you have a responsibility to befriend a river – to keep it free from debris, sediment, and pollutants.
The river water is recharged by rainfall (and snowmelt) from surface water that runs off and from stored groundwater recharged by rainfall that infiltrates the ground beneath the surface. What you put on the ground or inject into the ground has the potential for affecting river water quality.
All of the ditches, creeks, and waterways through the fields connect to a river. Yellow Creek, Richland Creek, and many other streams flow into the Pecatonica. Your tax dollars have supported farmers with cost-share dollars to apply best soil management practices to many acres of highly erodible land in Stephenson County to keep sediment out of the river. Conservation-minded landowners have done much to improve river water quality using many forms of conservation practices including grass waterways, streambank stabilization, grass and tree buffers, and conservation tillage.
Wetlands provide a natural management system. They clean water, recharge water supplies, reduce flood risks, and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Wetlands also can provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, and sites for research and education. As a landowner you can consider saving or restoring wetlands where they have been destroyed by development.
In the cities and towns with curbs and gutters the water runs off to storm sewers that flow to a river. Individual landowners can find ways to keep the water on their own land – rain barrels, rain gardens, and natural grass plantings – allowing rain to infiltrate the ground. Cities and towns can use varieties of plants around parking lots and buildings that increase water uptake. Restored wetlands can be used to filter urban pollutants and sediment from storm water before it empties into the river.
Current drought conditions should remind you that keeping as much rainfall as possible on your own land benefits you. By keeping rainfall on your own land and keeping runoff free of pollutants is a way you can befriend a river.
Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 08/15/12 (for publication on 08/18/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org