Restoring Riparian Habitat
Some parts of Seven Mile Creek show signs of being treated carelessly or callously. One of the top priorities of the watershed initiative is removal of trash and debris from the waterway. Mosquitoes breed in abandoned tires and toxic chemicals leak from some partly-filled containers. Yet while trash can have a direct impact on human health, the best reason to remove it is to show our environment the respect it deserves. That begins with proper disposal of garbage. Metal may take decades to degrade, while Styrofoam is practically eternal. A moment's thoughtlessness can leave a blight on the land for years.
Riparian zones are critical areas of habitat alongside rivers and streams that are esthetically pleasing, offer a haven to wildlife, slow erosion, and protect water quality.
These natural areas allow wildlife sheltered access to vital water supplies. Many species of plants and animals frequent these zones, and some are found nowhere else.
Riparian zones fight erosion in two ways: first, the leaf canopy breaks the force of rainfall before it impacts the ground, and second, tree roots hold the soil together even better than grass.
Finally, trees protect both the quantity and quality of the water itself. Overhanging canopy reduces water loss from solar radiation and wind. Shade keeps the stream cooler which allows the water to hold more dissolved oxygen. Also, nature's own barrier to stormwater runoff is the last defense to keep chemical pollutants and silt out of the water supply.
An important part of the Ellington Seven Mile Creek community watershed initiative is the widening and enriching of riparian zones. What was once mowed grass is being converted to equal parts trees and natural warm season grasses. The upper photo shows young tulip poplar seedlings planted behind the Porter Building. The lower photo shows the edge of a recently-implemented unmowed zone. After just a few months, there is an easily visible distinction. It will be a 100 foot buffer (50' trees and 50' warm season grasses. We are installing 50' buffers along major creeks and 25' buffers along smaller ones. We are also planning some residential projects that will install 15' buffers along small creeks in people's yards.
If you plan to alter or restore native riparian buffers on your property, please consult with the appropriate government agency or private consultant to determine whether buffer ordinances or regulations apply. Minimum buffer widths of undisturbed cover and recommended native plant species may vary.
Water is a sculptor that shapes land. While no two waterbodies are exactly alike, there are certain predictable patterns that indicate nature is at work. These patterns are stable and functional. Changes to the environment may cause instability, often great enough to require human intervention.
Sevenmile Creek on the Ellington Campus suffered from a number of problems induced by increased runoff and rechanneling. Current efforts are being directed at returning the feature to a more natural state. The photograph shows an area that suffered from steep banks which was reshaped to a more natural appearance. Coconut roll is being used on the reshaped contours as a short term strategy to prevent erosion. The area will soon be replanted with natural vegetation and stabilization will be complete.
Wetlands are a transition zone between fresh water and dry land, with their own special characteristics. They are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, on par with rain forests and coral reefs. They are not only excellent wildlife habitat, they have esthetic value to people.
Once wetlands were thought to be unproductive, unhealthy areas. Thousands of acres were "reclaimed" by rechanneling and draining. Now that we recognize the value of these areas, we are beginning to reverse the trend. Wetlands are efficient natural water treatment plants, purifying surface water, preventing erosion and even mitigating flood damage. Protecting the wetlands along seven mile creek is one of the priorities of the Ellington Center Watershed Initiative.