Care for Backyard Water Resources

Ponkapoag Pond, Canton, July 2008.

Is that waterbody in your backyard – be it a stream, pond, lake or wetland dear to your heart, your sense of well-being, and your property value?

If so, take advantage of the following guidance and links to keep your aquatic gem in top-notch shape, environmentally-speaking – so that it supports a variety of fish, wildlife, and plants, and is pleasant to live next to.

Keep the water cool

As air temperatures continue their overall rise due to climate change, stream temperatures will follow suit.

Unfortunately, it’s the cooler water that holds more dissolved oxygen, and dissolved oxygen is key for aquatic wildlife.

So, here’s what you can do to keep the water body in your backyard at a cooler temperature to help its aquatic life to thrive:

  1. Plant a variety of native plants around the stream or pond, and let these plants grow tall enough to shade the water. Remember: Never mow down to the water’s edge. Besides cooling the water, water-side plants help filter and clean runoff from the rest of your yard that may contain lawn-care chemicals like fertilizers or pesticides, or silt. This array of native plants also provides habitat for wildlife.
  2. Conserve water. The less water you take from the ground, the more water there can be within the waterbody. And, the more water there is, the cooler the water can remain and the more oxygen it can hold.

Reduce the pollution entering your waterway, and prevent bank erosion

The water that runs across your driveway, over your roof, and along your yard can flow into the stream, carrying pollutants and causing erosion. Here’s what you can do to lessen the severity of this impact:

  1. Slow down that flowing water. Plant a wide strip of diverse native plants around the waterbody. Let these plants grow up (never mow down to the edge of the water). The plants will slow down the water that flows over your yard and into the stream. The slower this water moves, the better the chance it has to drop its load of contaminants before they can enter the waterway. Also, the slower water will not cause as much erosion of the streambank. Slower flow also will allow more of the surface water to absorb into the ground to be filtered of pollutants and to slowly recharge the groundwater and waterbody.
  2. You also can protect your stream by building “rain gardens” in your yard to absorb the water that flows from your driveway, the street, and downspouts during rainstorms. Each rain garden will filter the water and enable a slower infiltration of cleaner water into the waterbody.
  3. Your family even can replace the driveway with permeable pavement or pavers to allow more water to absorb into the earth instead of running straight into the waterbody.

Use less water, and keep it local

A combination of climate change and communities’ increasing use of water is bringing about lower water flows in local waterways. Here’s what you can do to help keep more water in our waterways to support wildlife, plants, and the landscape:

Conserve water, every day. Reduce the water you use at home, school and work, and help your friends and family to do the same. By using less water, you help more water to stay in underground aquifers, to supply water to streams, wetlands, ponds and the river.

  • Turn off the water when you: brush your teeth, wash dishes by hand, or shave.
  • When your family needs a new appliance (like a dishwasher, toilet, showerhead or washing machine), choose a water-efficient model.
  • If your family waters the lawn, water in the morning to reduce water waste through evaporation.
  • Plant native, drought-tolerant plants in your yard, to water less, in general.
  • Build a rain garden in your yard. The rain garden will intercept water that flows over the yard, or from your driveway, roof, street, or sidewalks – and direct it into a special mix of soil and plants, to be filtered and absorbed. Plants will use that water, or it will sink slowly into the soil to join the groundwater and eventually – the waterbody.

Remove waterway obstructions

Old, small dams on streams block fish and other wildlife passage and degrade both water quality and wildlife habitat. By removing these small dams (over 115 exist in the Neponset River Watershed!), we:

  • Restore opportunities for fish and other aquatic wildlife to travel longer stream lengths; to pass between streams and the Neponset River; and to access habitat, mates, and shelter
  • Improve water quality—reducing pollutant levels, cooling water temperatures, and increasing dissolved oxygen levels
  • Restore natural stream processes, like the distribution of sediments and nutrients along streambeds
  • Restore biodiversity to our streams (let’s support more brook trout!)
  • Reduce the risk of flooding, injury, and property damage

Learn more.

Provide high-quality wildlife habitat

Wildlife will look for cooler areas to live. Restored stream and river corridors, where a variety of native plants have been planted along the riverbanks, offer cooler shelters and travel corridors.

Here’s what you can do promote better wildlife habitat:

Volunteer with local projects that ecologically restore stream and river corridors.

More waterfront property maintanence tips

  1. General guidance
    1. Peruse the Stream Steward Handbook from the Haw River Assembly
    2. Yard maintenance guidance for waterfront property-owners
    3. Tips for maintaining your land, whatever features it may contain
  2. Be wildlife-friendly
    1. Tips to make your waterfront yard more friendly to wildlife
    2. Landscaping for wildlife and water quality
  3. Restore the shoreline
    1. Shoreline restoration and other info
    2. Shoreline restoration examples
    3. Restoring buffer zones.
    4. Learn more about riparian buffers.
  4. Add plants
    1. Waterscaping with native plants
    2. Plant native plants and remove exotic, invasive plants
  5. Reduce chemical pollution in your waterbody by reducing chemical use in your yard:
    1. 7 chemical-free yard fixes
    2. Natural lawn care
    3. Repelling “pests” without man-made chemicals
    4. About lawn chemicals
  6. Recognize the species in your waterbody and yard:
    1. On-line field guide to freshwater aquatic plants of MA
    2. On-line field guide to common aquatic and riparian plants of NH
    3. Fish you might see in your backyard waterbody.
    4. Additional fish list.
    5. How to repel Canada geese