Flood Control Solutions for Property Owners
Individual property owners can help alleviate flooding problems like those brought on by Hurricane Irene and the heavy rains of September of 2011 when streams and rivers hit all-time high water marks.
Homeowners can begin with the size and care of lawns. Rather than striving for a large carpet of green through the use of pesticides and herbicides, consider reducing the size of your lawn by 10% and allow your landscape to be a bit more natural. You can help prevent soil erosion by using native plants in your landscape that help hold soil in place and filter stormwater. As a bonus, your lawn and garden will be greener during the “dog days” of summer since native plants are more drought resistant than many popular non-native lawn grasses.
You can take a few simple steps to make your lawn healthier and better able to absorb rainwater when it falls.
- Use an organic fertilizer early each spring
- Set your mower to 3”, not anything lower (Cutting too short results in decreased root growth. More roots mean more water is absorbed and runoff is reduced.)
- Water infrequently but deeply
- Use hand tools to remove individual weeds
For more information about growing an organic lawn, follow this link.
Even owners of small pieces of property can help prevent flooding through the use of a rain garden. What is a rain garden? It is a low-lying vegetated depression (typically 3 to 6 inches deep) with absorbent soils that temporarily collect storm water runoff from impervious surfaces and allow the runoff to slowly percolate into the soil.
Large or small, rain gardens should be planted with native plants. As a general rule, any plant described as Japanese, Oriental, English, etc. is obviously not native to North America and should be avoided. In our area, plant material ranges from the black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica) to arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentate) and garden perennials such as bee balm (Mondarda didyma), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinanlis) and obedient plant (Physostegia Virginian). More suggestions for native plants can be found here.
RHA’s Director of Education & Stewardship Lauren Theis is a certified Rain Garden Specialist, and she is happy to speak with interested groups and individuals who would like more information or guidance about establishing a rain garden. Lauren spearheaded the creation of a rain garden at Fairview Farm (located in the fenced in area in front of our barn complex) and we invite you to visit to learn how we created it, what plants we used and what we’ve learned since we planted it in 2009.
The best protection for a stream is to be surrounded with a good buffer area of woods, shrubs, wetlands, and grasses to intercept contaminated runoff before it reaches the water. The less “groomed” this buffer area is, the more it can perform its normal functions, which include:
- Protecting banks from erosion
- Storing water and filtering it to ground water
- Removing sediment and excess nutrients
- Shading and cooling the stream
- Providing organic debris for the stream’s food chain
- Filtering out pollutants
If you are fortunate enough to have a stream or pond on your property, don’t mow within three feet of the edge and allow the vegetation to grow to a height of about three feet. Vegetation allowed to grow along the banks of streams and ponds prevents erosion and the related silting in and flooding during heavy rain events. Steep-banked streams require the hearty protection of shrubs and trees that provide shade, erosion control, temperature regulation and food sources for aquatic wildlife.
If your stream bank has begun to erode and you are interested in beginning a restoration project, RHA may be able to assist you.
Several years ago, with grant funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection,we worked with the Borough of Peapack-Gladstone and Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants to restore a section of Peapack Brook, a trout production stream, in the borough’s Rockabye Meadow Park. The goal of the project was to eliminate scouring during heavy rain events and restore shade to provide the cool water necessary for trout habitat.
If you have a body of water on your property that has a dam, you might want to consider removing that dam. However, the process to dismantle a man-made dam can be costly and time consuming.
A dam isn’t necessarily a formal structure, however. A dam can be created by debris build-up as a result of flooding or it can be created by humans piling up rocks across a stream. Even stepping stones can be an impediment to the free flow of stream water. Removing a dam can be as easy as clearing debris build-up, removing that rock pile you built so many years ago or removing those stepping stones.
If you have a large piece of property and open space, please consider keeping it open. If you must build, do so with an eye toward preventing flooding, through the use of permeable surfaces, rain gardens, etc.
As the region encompassed by the Raritan Headwaters continues to become more and more urbanized, it is incumbent upon each of us to do all that we can to protect a precious resource: clean water for the Raritan River watershed.