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A Watershed Approach to Landscaping

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

As we find ourselves bundling up, heading outside, and putting our lawns and backyards to bed for the winter, it may be difficult to think about how our basic yard care and landscaping habits can affect our environment, let alone our planet. We know that our individual yards and landscapes play a critical role in the health of both the watershed we live in and the earth as a whole. Yet we often don’t see how the simple practices of gardening and landscaping in our front yards could possibly influence the changes we have been experiencing in our weather and environment. We’re too little, and the problem is too big, right?

What if we could change our thoughts about our yards and landscapes as being more than ornamental and curb-appealing? What about starting to think of our yards as their own living entities – a multi-dimensional environmental solution! But how do we do this? And why?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a watershed as “an area of land that drains to a common waterway, such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer, or even the ocean.” That means that every Chautauqua County property or area of land, regardless of its size or location or use, can be thought of and described as a “mini-watershed.” Why is this important? Because all of the water that rains on our homes and flows through our yards and streets ends up in a waterway. For us in Chautauqua County, that means eventually draining into Chautauqua Lake or Lake Erie, depending on where in the county you live. What we do in and around our yards definitely affects not only the quality of water we drink but the water we fish, swim, boat, and play in and under as well!

In a yard acting as a mini-watershed, rain and stormwater hit a rooftop or driveway and then run off into an area filled with native plants and vegetation. Water is slowed and allowed to either seep into the yard and become groundwater or move through it slowly as runoff, getting filtered and absorbed by plant roots and eventually finding its way into a local waterway. Either way, water quality is improved because the water is allowed to sit, stay, and be absorbed and filtered by your native landscape. Runoff into nearby roadside ditches is slowed and erosion and possible flooding is minimized.

A “watershed approach to landscaping” is really just a fancy way to encourage homeowners to really think about their yards and begin to change their landscapes into purposeful, functional ecosystems – a yard that can capture its own stormwater, slow down rain and runoff, and provide a healthy living environment for its owner and the wildlife that lives there! And the best thing about using this watershed approach on individual properties is that those properties now become part of a bigger solution, acting together to make communities more sustainable and resilient and positively influencing our weather-related environmental changes!

So you may be thinking . . . this all sounds great, but how do I even begin to go about creating a mini-watershed or living ecosystem in my own yard? Well, there is a new publication in town that talks about this, and you are going to want to read it! With the generous support of the Rockwell Foundation, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has created an amazing magazine called “Working with Nature” which includes inspiring stories from people and communities working to create a more sustainable and resilient Chautauqua County. As stated by our executive director, Whitney Gleason, this publication “is more than just a magazine – it’s a movement aimed at recognizing and celebrating a culture of environmental responsibility right at home. It is a valuable resource offering real world and local examples of what you can accomplish in your own backyards.”

If you are interested in learning more about a watershed approach to landscaping and/or are interested in a printed copy of our “Working with Nature” publication, please contact our conservationist, Carol Markham, at 716-664-2166 ext. 1005 or stop by our office at 71 East Fairmount Avenue in Lakewood. You can also download a copy here.

Article by Carol Markham, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy Conservationist

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