Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Every little bit helps

How to Keep Watersheds Healthy as Climate Changes
By DORIE STOLLEY/ News contributor
A rain garden next to Great Herring Pond in
Plymouth, Mass. (Watershed Action Alliance)

Does it seem like rain is falling harder these days compared to years past? It’s not an illusion. Here in New England, it’s raining more and with greater intensity. Between 1960 and 2010, the total amount of precipitation we receive in Massachusetts annually increased by about 10 percent. In Boston, that has meant a change from 40 to 45 inches, and more of that precipitation is coming in heavy downpours.

This presents a challenge to maintaining healthy watersheds. Big, heavy raindrops slamming down forcefully on bare dirt wash a lot of soil into waterways. Also, when a lot of rain falls in a short time, the ground is unable to absorb it all.

The water runs off the surface, washing through lawns and streets and down hills, picking up pollutants, sediment and trash as it rushes toward streams and rivers. If an area is mostly covered with asphalt and pavement, so-called impervious surfaces, runoff rates are even higher.

There are important things to do in your backyard, in your town and in new developments to lessen the impacts of greater and heavier precipitation on water quality.

One of the most important strategies is to plant and maintain riparian buffers, dense planted areas, next to streams and ponds. Vegetation breaks the force of the water as it falls, preventing it from eroding as much soil. Buffers also slow the water’s rush downhill and filter out pollutants.

Homeowners and municipalities can also maintain grassy swales — vegetated ditches that run along contours, where water can collect during a storm, travel more slowly to waterways and percolate into the soil. Another common tool is a rain garden, a depression in the soil planted with a variety of native plants to filter and uptake greater quantities of water while also beautifying an area and providing food for pollinating insects.

Wherever your town is considering allowing new developments, it’s important to keep climate change. Reducing the amount of allowable impervious surface promotes a healthier watershed. This can be done by clustering houses together and leaving natural areas free from development, which can then double as recreation amenities, such as hiking trails.

Dorie Stolley is the outreach coordinator for the Watershed Action Alliance.