Taking Care of Our Watersheds
Healthy watersheds are vital for a healthy community and a healthy economy. Everything we do on the land impacts our watersheds - for the better or for the worse. Individuals, citizen groups, and government all have a role in maintaining healthy watersheds. Individuals can take steps to be more sustainable in their daily choices and actions - regardless of whether or not they manage land. Citizen groups can help bring neighbors and communities together to steward watersheds. Government can help make sure needs of people and watersheds are met for a healthy and sustainable future.
Responsible land stewardship helps to ensure creek stability, good water quality, reliable water supply, and healthy habitats. Whether or not you live along a creek, it is important to remember that your actions on the landscape impact local creeks and the greater watershed. 8 watershed care tips for Napa County residents.
1. Keep yard litter out of creeks, off the street, and out of ditches and stormdrains
Yard litter will clog storm drains and/or be transported to creeks and waterways. Green waste can be disposed of via curbside pick-up or taken to the Napa Recycling and Waste Service Composting Facility.
2. Properly irrigate lawns and gardens
Use meters, timers, or other metering devices to control water use. Over-watering adds water, excess fertilizers and pesticides, and soil to ditches and stormdrains. Observe irrigation carefully. If water is running off its intended landscape, you are likely applying too much water in too short a time period.
3. Compost leaves, grass clippings, and other organic waste away from the creek
Never dump leaves, grass, or other organic waste onto the street, creekbanks or into the creek itself. Although leaves and other organic waste are biodegradable, adding an excessive amount of them to the creek system depletes oxygen in the water and can stress or kill fish and other aquatic life. It also suppresses vegetative growth, which helps to stabilize creek banks.
4. Consider alternatives to impervious concrete
Pervious surfaces such as interlocking pavers, flat stones, and decking allow rainwater to infiltrate the soil. Consider this type of material when installing a new patio or rebuilding a walkway or driveway.
5. Avoid or minimize use of fertilizers and pesticides
Many home gardeners over-apply fertilizers and pesticides (including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides). Always follow application directions. If used excessively, fertilizer can make its way to nearby creeks and create algal blooms that deplete the oxygen supply in the water. Excessive amounts of some nutrients are toxic to aquatic life. Avoid applying fertilizers and pesticides during the rainy season or on windy days. Pesticide drift can threaten riparian plants and aquatic life. Store chemicals in a protected area to avoid runoff. Our Water Our World promotes the use of nontoxic chemicals in the home and in the yard.
6. Use water legally and with great care
Make sure you have a permit to take water from streams. Do not exceed your allocation. Allow stream flow to continue in the creek. Like you, creek organisms need a continuous water supply to thrive.
7. Preserve and promote native creekside vegetation
Native riparian vegetation growing within a creek corridor helps to stabilize streambanks and provides wildlife habitat and shading of the creek. In times of flooding, a well-vegetated streambank may provide protection for property. Native seedlings represent future replacements for aging vegetation and also add rooting strength to the bank.
8. Landscape with low maintenance native plants
Native plants are more tolerant of drought conditions and are better suited to local soils and pests. Check out native plant gardening books, such as Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator and California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein. If planting non-native plants, avoid highly invasive ornamental plants. Click here for a list of plants to seek out, and a list of those to avoid.
Stormwater runoff occurs when precipitation from rain or snowmelt flows over the ground. Impervious surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground. Stormwater can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm drain system, then into creeks. Communities can ensure healthy strom drains and creeks by making sure that trash and other pollution is not in the path of rain water flowing towards storm drains. Communtiites can also create more permeable landscapes so that more rainwater soaks into the ground instead of entering the storm drain system. Learn more about harvesting rainwater in rain gardens and rain barrels.
Napa County, like communities across the nation, has recognized that the best way to protect our vital natural resources is to understand and manage them on a watershed level. Working at the watershed level is an effective and efficient way to sustain local economies and environmental health. Landowners, local governments, conservation organizations, and individual citizens all over the county are working together to find ways to maintain and improve the health of our watershed lands. Click here to learn more about activities of local watershed groups.
Watershed assessment, restoration, and monitoring are all important components of watershed management.
Watershed assessments provide baseline information about an area. Assessments help determine if more studies are needed to make good management decisions for long term sustainability.
Restoration projects should result from assessment findings and should be carefully planned by professionals. In some cases, well-trained volunteers can implement projects; in other cases, heavy equipment and skilled labor is necessary.
Monitoring helps us understand whether restoration methods are effective. Monitoring quantifiable parameters such as seedling survival, water temperature, turbidity, presence of native animals, or cover of exotic vs. native plant species provides data that can be compared with targets. When monitoring shows that a project is not performing well, restoration measures should be adapted.
As the population of Napa County grows and development pressure increases, setting aside areas protected from future development is becoming increasingly important for preserving agricultural land, wildlife habitats, recreational sites, and scenic open space.
Protected lands account for 118,917 acres or just over 20% of the County (2004). Protected lands are owned by:
- Bureau of Land Management - ~ 37,000 acres, the majority of which lies within the Putah Creek Watershed
- Bureau of Reclamation - ~9000 acres around Lake Berryessa
- California State Parks - Bothe-Napa Valley and Robert Louis Stevenson parks
- California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection - Las Posadas State Forest
- California Department of Fish and Game - Napa/Sonoma Marsh, Napa River Ecological Reserve
- Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District - Moore Creek Park and others
- Local city governments - watershed lands surrounding Milliken and Hennessey reservoirs
- Land Trust of Napa County - Connolly Ranch, Archer Taylor Preserve, and many more
In addition to the permanent preserves, Land Trust of Napa County has worked with private landowners to preserve land through conservation easements. A conservation easement is a beneficial voluntary tool used by landowners to protect their land while retaining ownership. It provides potential income tax savings and allows landowners to legally restrict future development on their properties.
Water is California's most precious natural resource. How we manage it today will affect every aspect of our future. When our state enjoys a year of abundant rain and our reservoirs are full, it is easy to think that our water supply is endless. But it's important to remember that in California, the next drought may be just around the corner. Wasting small amounts of water today means less water is available for the dry times we know will come again. Visit the water conservation page to learn about conservation resources in your area. You can also get water saving tips from Save our Water.org
Storm-proofing road systems protects road surfaces from erosion, reduces annual road maintenance costs, AND benefits aquatic habitat in local streams. If storm-proofing treatments are implemented correctly, future storm runoff can cleanse the streams of accumulated coarse and fine sediment rather than deposit fine sediments in areas where it impairs fish habitat. Learn how to storm-proof roads and improve water quality.