CURB program helps keep streams healthy

Work along Garrison Creek shows how the stream banks can be improved to help the waterway.

Work along Garrison Creek shows how the stream banks can be improved to help the waterway.

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Work along Garrison Creek shows how the stream banks can be improved to help the waterway.

FYI

To learn more or schedule a site visit:

www.tristatesteelheaders.com/index.php/restoration/curb

Tri-State Steelheaders, 509-529-3543

Kooskooskie Commons, 509-529-8009

WW County Conservation District, 509-522-6342

More than 1,000 Walla Walla-area families have a stream on their property.

The sound of the water and the presence of songbirds, trout, steelhead, tree frogs, mink and muskrats are just some of the many delights of living along a creek.

The numerous spring-fed streams running through Walla Walla and College Place play a valuable role in the ecology of our watershed by contributing cool, clean water to Mill Creek and the Walla Walla River, important migratory routes for threatened salmon and steelhead populations.

To protect habitat and water quality in the small streams, Tri-State Steelheaders, Kooskooskie Commons, and Walla Walla County Conservation District are collaborating with willing property owners to re-establish native plants along streambanks.

This ongoing effort to protect stream health in our area is called Creating Urban Riparian Buffers, a grant-funded program that assists homeowners with streamside planting projects. For each project, CURB develops a plan that not only promotes water quality and healthy streamside habitat, but also incorporates the desires of the homeowner.

Our intention is to strike a balance between a natural riparian area and conventional landscaping to create a backyard buffer that looks beautiful, functions well ecologically, and reflects family life.

Grant funds cover the cost of plants, some site preparation and planting. Much of the manual labor is donated by volunteers and corrections crews. Homeowners provide 25 percent of the cost by contributing their time weeding and watering the project area as the plants take root and grow.

Healthy riparian buffers are important because they promote clean water. Some soils in our area contain legacy chemicals like chlorinated pesticides and PCBs that get into the water when these soils erode. The root systems of mature riparian plants help stabilize stream banks and reduce erosion.

Plants along a stream also provide shade, helping to cool the water. Warm water promotes undesired algae growth and cannot contain as much dissolved oxygen for aquatic wildlife as cooler water.

Sunshine on streams also creates an environment in which invasive weeds such as reed canary grass and yellow flag iris can become established, crowding out the beneficial native species.

Creating a buffer of native plants between creeks and adjacent land also reduces contamination from pesticides and fertilizers commonly used for lawn care. As rain or irrigation water flows through a riparian area, any chemical residue is intercepted by roots, foliage and leaf litter.

By planting backyard buffers, property owners promote cold clean water and can reduce the spread of invasive plant species.

In addition to planting along the water, streamside landowners can also improve water quality by limiting the use of pesticides and lawn fertilizers and by targeting noxious weeds with hand weeding or spot spraying rather than using weed-and-feed products. Household, pet and yard wastes should not be dumped in or near streams. Regular septic system maintenance helps prevent contaminated runoff.

To date, 42 CURB projects have been completed. Over 7,500 trees, shrubs and flowering perennials have been planted along 12,000 linear feet of Yellowhawk, Stone and Garrison creeks.

As of July 2012, the program was expanded to include Butcher, Caldwell, Titus, Lincoln, Russell, Lasiter, Cold, Doan and Bryant creeks.

Funding for CURB is provided by the water quality program of Washington Department of Ecology.

Tara Patten is program manager for Tri-State Steelheaders. For more information, go to www.tristatesteelheaders.com.

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