Opinion: How you can help improve Rockland’s Water Quality

This week, the Rockland County Water Quality Coordinating Committee hosted a public meeting featuring a guest speaker from WildLawn, a professional land renovation firm that works with homeowners to integrate more sustainable management practices.

While homeowners generally account for a smaller portion of the pollution introduced to our environment, sometimes described as “a drop in the bucket” compared to large companies and municipalities that leave much larger footprints, WildLawn’s presentation stressed the small steps that individuals can take to improve the quality of their community.

Ignorant lawn keeping practices and poor landscape management can contribute to fertilizer pollution and water body contamination. This is known as “non-point-source” pollution, as the source from these impacts cannot be traced to a single identifiable point of origin and can accumulate from enough contributors to create larger environmental issues. WildLawn acts as an environmental expert in the Northeast and maintains large informational databases regarding plant communities and monitoring locations in and around the Hudson Valley. WildLawn employs the use of alternative lawns, pollinator habitats, rain gardens and roof lawns as a means of providing homeowners with modern sustainable concepts to add to their everyday lives.

WildLawn was a great guest speaker to have at the meeting as they helped to highlight the role that homeowners play in maintaining their local environment. Understanding the way that inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides affect the surrounding environment is essential when responsibly managing a landscape.

Water moves through our yards, gardens, gutters and sewer drains to end up either at processing facilities or into water bodies. Most outdoor water that doesn’t go down a drain ends up back into some aquifer, either a lake or in the groundwater. The best ways we can take responsibility for the impacts our landscape can exert is by designing the proper garden areas and helping to guide water through drainage channels to prevent flooding or erosion.

Using less fertilizer every year and opting instead for longer-term solutions such as milorganite or other soil building material can greatly improve water quality coming off your property. Regardless of what you put into your plants and soil, it is essential to retain that soil and prevent it from being washed away. Erosion derived from high volumes of water movement can carry away soil and nutrients, which simultaneously weakens your garden beds and also creates nutrient problems for others who get the soil washed onto their property.

Taking the time to walk through your property after a rainstorm to see if there’s any evidence of washouts can be helpful. Monitoring for areas that appear soggy or waterlogged can be useful when anticipating future tree plantings. Another way to engage more with your landscape is by encouraging the development of functional ecological relationships. Including shrubs and plantings that naturally attract birds and pollinators can increase the ecological services offered by your landscape without increasing the amount of upkeep and maintenance necessary to maintain an aesthetic yard.

The more we desire a uniformed landscape that lends itself to easy management practices, the more we tend to stray from the concept of “natural” lawns that are more akin to meadows or grasslands. If you can see a rabbit in your yard, then there is minimal camouflage being offered by that landscape. If you don’t hear birds in the morning, it’s only because they need a place to nest. As we learn more about ways to enhance the functionality of our landscapes, we also can become more attached to what makes them up and how it ties us closer to not only nature, but the natural processes that have been going on for thousands of years.

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