Rain barrels store water that you can use in your garden, which promotes stormwater filtration. They're also great for conserving water during droughts. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)
You can promote creek health by installing structures that reduce stormwater runoff, avoiding use of harmful chemicals outside and by participating in local environment clean-up days.
Patricia Wilson  - 
November 22, 2021

Creeks are a vital part of our watershed ecosystems and serve many benefits, such as filtering nutrients and debris; providing habitats for aquatic plants and animals; and acting as channels connecting other bodies of water. 

One of the biggest threats to the health of our creeks, and ultimately our larger freshwater supply, is contamination through stormwater runoff. In nature, stormwater runoff is slowed as it passes over soil, trees and other vegetation. Plants and soil absorb runoff and filter it slowly as it seeps down and replenishes groundwater. This water eventually makes it to our lakes, clean and filtered. 

In urban areas, there is less greenspace and fewer natural areas for stormwater to get absorbed. Since stormwater can’t be absorbed by impermeable surfaces (such as concrete and pavement), stormwater runoff reaches our waterways faster, bringing with it pollutants like toxic chemicals, oil and debris that it picks up along the way. 

With an increase in urban development and less available greenspaces, we need to work together to reduce stormwater runoff and protect our water from harmful contamination. 

Here are three simple ways that you can help protect our local creeks!

On September 25, 2020, a volunteer with GreenUP’s SUN Warsaw project planted a native species, part of the initiative to help filter run-off from a culvert before it enters the Indian River. Planting native species along shorelines helps to prevent shore erosion, and helps to soak up stormwater. (Photo by Leif Einarson, shared courtesy of GreenUP.)

1. Rainwater mitigation

An easy way to help reduce stormwater runoff is to install rain barrels and rain gardens at your home or workplace. 

Rain barrels collect rainwater that runs off from your roof and gutters, and store it for your gardening later. In addition to reducing stormwater runoff you are also reducing your household’s water usage.

Rain gardens are an easy, low maintenance way to help collect some rainwater and provide a place for it to get absorbed. These shallow gardens can replace portions of your lawn and help filter harmful chemicals and pollutants. Bonus, rain gardens are low maintenance and can attract a variety of native species to your yard, such as birds, rabbits and butterflies! 

Naturalizing creek banks helps prevent erosion and provides habitats for wildlife. If your property is on a lake or has a stream or river flowing through it, consider planting trees and plants alongside the edges. This can help provide a buffer along the shoreline and act as a way to slow down and filter runoff. 

There are several great local resources that have a ton of information to get you started, and even provide some funding for these projects!

GreenUP’s Depave Paradise project removed the impermeable pavement at this site at Winfield Shores Harbour Park in Lakefield, and replaced it with a permeable rain garden earlier this year. GreenUP is currently looking for a site to transform into green space for Spring 2022. (Photos by Genevieve Ramage, shared courtesy of GreenUP)

2. Avoid using chemicals outside

Whether you’re washing your car with soaps and detergents or spraying your plants with an herbicide or fertilizer, you are contributing to toxic pollutants that contaminate our water. When it rains, these chemicals can get transported into our local streams, creeks and lakes.  

Find natural alternatives for plant care, such as using nutrient rich organic soil. You can also find natural ways to reduce unwanted bugs and pests, like planting fragrant herbs or using salt sprays. Cultivating native species of plants in your garden also reduces the need for fertilizer and insecticide.

Avoid washing your cars at home and go to a local car wash instead where they have the infrastructure to collect water and prevent it from going unfiltered into our streams.

In the winter, salt is a key tool for keeping walkways safe, but often we use too much. Otonabee Conservation says, “You only need 1 tablespoon of salt to melt an area of 1 meter squared.” Try to use road salt alternatives like sand or non-clumping kitty litter, and use only what’s needed to melt the snow or ice.

Pet waste also contributes toxins to the local water system. Always pick up dog poop and throw away properly.

3. Get involved! 

You can help reduce the waste and toxic materials that end up in our waterways by simply picking up trash! 

Signing up for community cleanups can help make a huge impact by preventing garbage from entering our water systems. Organizations like Kawartha Land Trust, are often looking for volunteers to help with cleanups on their nature reserves, check them out here: https://kawarthalandtrust.org/you-can-help/give-time/

If you don’t have time to volunteer, that’s okay too. You can always go out on your own and pick up trash near your home, at your local park or at a nearby conservation area!

Volunteers collected many bags of garbage during Kawartha Land Trust’s September 25 shoreline clean-up event on Boyd Island. Picking up garbage ensures habitats are clean and safe for local wildlife, and prevents pollution. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Land Trust)

Patricia Wilson is a nature lover at heart, and passionate about increasing diversity and inclusion within the conservation and environmental world. Patricia has worked within the environmental non-profit sector for six years and has experience in ecological restoration, land stewardship and invasive species management, trail development and community outreach. She currently works with Kawartha Land Trust as their Community Conservation Coordinator. She also holds a BSc from Trent University in Conservation Biology as well as a diploma in Ecosystem Management from Fleming College. Patricia knows that in order to create lasting change, we need to come together to mobilize and empower BIPOC voices, and this led her to create the Diverse Nature Collective.