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We live and learn. Still, it is surprising that even our long “established” principles, thought to be best practices, sometimes need to largely change as we go forward to better environments. Who would have guessed that, for decades, Smokey The Bear got it wrong? Small scale, “controlled burn” forest fires in the understory are essential to keeping down the tinder levels that now fuel the huge super burns plaguing the American West.

So too it is now apparent that our land development and lawn landscaping practices have contributed to Chesapeake Bay pollution loads of Phosphorous, Nitrogen and Sediment. Our goals have been to manage precipitation off our properties as fast as possible, piped and shunted into streams. The result has been too high water volumes at too high velocities that have eroded stream banks and funneled pollutants downstream.

 river

What is the new ideal? All precipitation should be considered a resource and captured for use on the property. Flowing water needs to be slowed down, captured, soaked in, and/or filtered through vegetation and deep, permeable soils. Half the water should be infiltrated back into the groundwater and aquifers while the other half evaporates or undergoes evapotranspiration via vegetation. No storm water run-off is the healthiest state. Open waters should be fed by the water table, not pipes or high velocity flow.

 stream

BTW, Ground subsidence is now recognized as one of [if not THE] main drivers of sea level rise in Tidewater VA. We have pulled down aquifers and land elevation with it.

What exactly are the applications for conservation landscaping at the Shoreline, not just well inland or upstream?

shore illustration
 

First off, Living Shorelines are one of the recognized practices of conservation landscaping by stopping erosion at water’s edge. Other practices are also applicable just behind the shoreline where: run-off can cut channels into banks, lawn fertilizers/pesticides have a quick route into marine waters, and opportunities for natural landscapes with native plants are cut down/back for the sake of less environmentally productive lawn expanses. Grass lawns often cost more considering mowing expenses and 2-cycle engine air pollution.

 yard

 shoreline comparison

Other principles of conservation landscaping are: to remove and manage invasive species (like shoreline phragmites displacing marsh grasses), provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, and promote healthy/un-compacted soils especially during construction events.  

Here are a few links for further explanation:

http://www.chesapeakelandscape.org

http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/conlascp.htm

Conservation practices eligible for grants can be found at http://vaswcd.org/vcap.

 down tree

Now, a worst case scenario!