How Native Plants Help with Erosion Control

Erosion is a major problem for shorelines, agriculture, and freshwater areas. Erosion is a natural process that removes soil and also reduces specific aspects of the soil like its ability to retain water (Duran Zuazo & Rodriguez Pleguezuelo, 2008). Erosion affects the soil’s ability to grow food and can cause eroded land cover that can lead to severe land loss. Human impacts are known to accelerate erosion (Aziz & Islam, 2023) and erosion has increased in intensity and occurrence in recent decades (Maximiliano-Cordova et al., 2019). Erosion can come from a variety of sources, such as wind and water, so it is important to look at different types of erosion control.

Why is erosion a major issue for soil? Soil is more than just dirt. Soil is composed of many parts and functions and is better understood with science and expertise. When erosion happens, soil becomes unable to function as best as it can because erosion takes away soil biota and organic matter. Without these aspects, soil loses its ability to grow plants let alone food. This makes erosion control incredibly important in conserving our soil and shorelands.

Hand-drawn diagram of the different root structure lengths of different types of plants. From shortest root length and least complex to longest and most complex, the order is: mowed grass, wildflowers, grasses and sedges, shrubs, and trees.

When exploring the different methods of erosion control, there is now more intensive research on the prospect of using plants to reduce the impacts of erosion. Current research shows that plants are a great way to reduce erosion, while also provide resiliency against climate change, and valuable wildlife habitat. Plant roots reinforce soil (Chok et al., 2015), increasing soil cohesion and creating a closely spaced root system for the soil to stay in (Chok et al., 2015).

When selecting plants for erosion control, it is important to think about whether they are native to the environment, and will thrive in the area where they are planted. Important factors to consider are soil type, moisture level, sunlight availability, and height (to protect any desired views). Native plants are better because they have healthy linkages to the wildlife and other plants around them. Invasive plants lack predation and can over- and out-compete with the other plants for space, food, and sunlight. Some native plants species that are well suited for erosion control because of the complex and deep root systems include Sweet Gale, Fragrant Sumac, and Silver Maple. You can find suitable native species for your region by using the free, Canada-wide Native Plant Database from Watersheds Canada’s Natural Edge Program.

Another method of erosion control is using hard structures. These structures can look like retaining walls or groins (Ciarmiello & Di Natale, 2016). However, human-made structures are not perfect. Using hard structures can actually create erosion in adjacent locations and negatively impact the littoral zone (Maximiliano-Cordova et al., 2019), and impedes the land-water interface for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife to use. In all cases of erosion control, here are some best practices (from the 2010 Shoreline Stabilization Techniques guide):

1. Imitate nature: Nature knows best. Native vegetation helps keep the shoreline intact by holding it together with its roots and foliage. Try to imitate nature wherever possible.

2. Keep slopes gentle: Steeper slopes mean more erosion impacts. Steeper slopes are more susceptible to erosion from waves and water currents, whereas gentle slopes break waves and can lead in less soil loss.

3. Mix it up: The more diverse it is, the better. Diversity through different plant types adds to biodiversity in the ecosystem. With variety, there is better resilience to impacts like plant disease and herbivory.

4. Plant as much as possible: Native species are adaptable to changing environmental conditions (ex: floods or droughts) and can grow and multiply to provide even more security for erosion control. 

This blog is part of a five-part series generously funded under the Great Lakes Protection Initiative – Areas of Concern (AOC) Program by Environment and Climate Change Canada. This three-year project will support important shoreline restoration in the St. Lawrence River AOC through the Natural Edge Program, and is being delivered by Watersheds Canada, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, River Institute, Great River Network, and Raisin Region Conservation Authority.

References

Aziz, S., & Islam, M. S. (2023). Erosion and runoff reduction potential of vetiver grass for hill slopes: A physical model study. International Journal of Sediment Research, 38(1), 49-65. doi:https://doi-org.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/10.1016/j.ijsrc.2022.08.005

Chok, Y.H., Jaksa, M.B., Kaggwa, W.S. et al. Assessing the influence of root reinforcement on slope stability by finite elements. Geo-Engineering 6, 12 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40703-015-0012-5

Ciarmiello, M., Di Natale, M. (2016). Coastal Erosion Control. In: Kennish, M.J. (eds) Encyclopedia of Estuaries. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-8801-4_386

Durán Zuazo, V.H., Rodríguez Pleguezuelo, C.R. Soil-erosion and runoff prevention by plant covers. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 28, 65–86 (2008). https://doi-org.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/10.1051/agro:2007062

Maximiliano-Cordova, C., Salgado, K., Martínez, M.L. et al. Does the Functional Richness of Plants Reduce Wave Erosion on Embryo Coastal Dunes?. Estuaries and Coasts 42, 1730–1741 (2019). https://doi-org.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/10.1007/s12237-019-00537-x

Shoreline Stabilization Techniques. (2010). Department of Environmental Conservation. New York State. https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/permits_ej_operations_pdf/stabiltechguid.pdf

News Release – Two waves of federal funding a signal of hope for Canada’s freshwater future

March 29, 2023 – Watersheds Canada is encouraged by the Government of Canada’s focus on freshwater health as announced in the new federal budget. First, it was announced there will be a Canadian government investment of $420 million over ten years to support the Great Lakes (announced last Friday), and second, a federal commitment to fund a new standalone Canada Water Agency.

“The new federal funding is a critical first part of the solution as all freshwater leaders, including Watersheds Canada volunteers, continue to find new streams of support to tackle local lake and river issues in the wake of climate change,” said Robert Pye, Executive Director of Watersheds Canada. “Congratulations to all of the freshwater coalitions, nonprofits, donors, taxpayers, and political leaders (on both sides of the border) who strongly advocated for these two announcements, and who continue to lead the way in supporting programs that protect Canada’s freshwater health.”

Since 2019, Watersheds Canada has been involved in over 8 projects on the Great Lakes including shoreline restoration along Lake Ontario, in the Quinte watershed, and the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern. These education and stewardship programs have also been funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to help support Species at Risk in the region including the Pugnose Shiner fish.

Watersheds Canada proudly stands in solidarity with our numerous freshwater partners and coalition organizations in the advocacy for climate change resiliency through lake and river protection. Every action matters. 

About Watersheds Canada

Watersheds Canada is a national non-profit charitable organization that works with landowners, communities, students, and organizations to enhance and protect lakes and rivers through developing effective and transferable long-term solutions. Watersheds Canada envisions people caring for their waters, resulting in clean, healthy lakes and rivers to support humans and wildlife for years to come. Learn more at Watersheds.ca

-30-

Media inquiries
Robert Pye, Executive Director
Watersheds Canada
pye (at) watersheds.ca

Enter to win a beautifully hand-crafted Common Loon!

Enter a contest to win a beautifully hand-crafted, new quarter size decorative Common Loon carving generously donated to Watersheds Canada by Canadian artist, Mike Reader:

Common loons are an indicator of water quality in a lake. Except for migration and nesting, Common Loon spend their entire lives in the water. As a top predator on the lake, they almost exclusively prey on fish, with adults eating about 2 pounds of fish every day! Breeding pairs of Common Loon are a real treat to see on any Canadian lake, and you can bring this treat home by entering our new contest!

Full contest details and entry form can be found here.

MEDIA RELEASE – Launch of new “Sustaining our Freshwater” pilot program for Municipalities of South Frontenac, Tweed

March 20, 2023, Eastern Ontario — The “Sustaining Our Freshwater” two-year pilot project will engage municipal decision-makers, freshwater stakeholders, Conservation Authorities, small businesses, Indigenous communities, and waterfront property owners with science-based information and educational resources in an effort to sustainably naturalize and restore shorelines to protect and improve freshwater quality.

This pilot project will include many components, including public consultations, information events, freshwater information toolkits through the Planning for our Shorelands program, presentations, public plantings and demonstration events through the Natural Edge shoreline restoration program, shoreline assessments through the Love Your Lake program, and the development of education materials.

This project is generously funded through the Government of Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program and is being delivered by Watersheds Canada, Quinte Conservation, Cataraqui Conservation, Dog & Cranberry Lakes Association, the Municipality of South Frontenac, the Municipality of Tweed, and Friends of Stoco Lake and local residents. Love Your Lake is a program coordinated and delivered by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Watersheds Canada.

-30-

Media Contact

Robert Pye
Executive Director
Watersheds Canada
pye@watersheds.ca

Giving Back to Your Freshwater

Using the Natural Edge Program to create a resilient and beautiful shoreline.

With summer just a few months away, you may find yourself already planning for upcoming adventures on the lake. Paddling, swimming, wildlife viewing, and fishing are some of the activities you may be looking forward to. Lakes provide many benefits to people: memory-building with family and friends, a connection to culture and traditions, or economic and recreation opportunities. And all of these benefits and activities depend on healthy shorelines. 

What do you value?

Healthy shorelines are important to Canadians—53% said natural shorelines are an element that affected their personal enjoyment of being by the lake, and 68% said the same for scenery/view (Love Your Lake, 2021). Healthy lake ecosystems also provide important environmental services that protect water quality, provide homes for wildlife, and shield against erosion and flooding. If these are the things waterfront property owners value, how do their actions support these values?

Out of 44,274 shoreline assessments Watersheds Canada has completed on 187 developed lakes, only 22% of properties met the minimum criteria for sustaining wildlife and lake health. Our surveys show that there is a huge disconnect between people’s values and their actions.

Modern waterfront landscaping practices have come to favour hardscapes like retaining and armour walls that remove vegetation adjacent to water bodies. Oftentimes, native vegetation is sacrificed to achieve the aesthetic desires of property owners, all to the detriment of wildlife health and water quality. Within the perceived conflict between private property owners and freshwater ecosystems, there is an opportunity to benefit wildlife and lake health through habitat creation that fits the needs and desires of private property owners. Watersheds Canada, a national charitable organization, developed the Natural Edge Program to meet this opportunity, utilizing our twenty years of experience with conservation programming and outreach pertaining to illustrate the importance of shoreline habitat restoration.

The Natural Edge Program

Different native plants are overlaid on a section of shoreline property in the Natural Edge iOS App to help a property owner visualize their soon-to-be restored property.

The Natural Edge Program focuses on shoreline renaturalization by using native plants and the custom-made Natural Edge iOS App, Canada-wide Native Plant Database, and self-guided resources. Our one-of-a-kind planting design software tool is the platform in which field staff work with waterfront property owners to develop their restoration plan. It uses site photographs taken with the App and incorporates graphic overlays of borders and plants selected from our integrated and geographic-specific Native Plant Database. This allows landowners to see what their restored shoreline will look like before planting actually takes place.

Water quality routinely ranks as the predominant issue among lake association members (Dennison, 2020; Love Your Lake, 2021; Natural Edge, 2020). One study found that a 30-metre buffer removed more than 85% of all studied pollutants including suspended sediment, nutrients, and pesticides (Zhang, et al., 2010)! Compared to turf grass, deep rooted plants like silver maple, black chokeberry, and nannyberry have extensive root systems, making them valuable for filtering runoff and stabilizing loose soils that may be vulnerable to erosion, ice push, and boat wakes. Any sized buffer is better than no buffer at all! Remember that your buffer can be completely customized based on your preferences and budget.

Naturalized shorelines are also good at keeping away the one wildlife species you may not want visiting your property: Canada Goose. By creating a native plant buffer in and along the shoreline and transforming part or all of a manicured lawn area to a more natural state with a “no-mow” zone, you will prevent Canada Goose from coming up on your property as they prefer open visibility and easy access to water to escape predators. The planting of native vegetative buffers along shorelines therefore creates wildlife habitat, shade, provides aesthetic beauty, and protects from erosion.

How to Take Action

Cost and lack of time are two predominant barriers property owners face to naturalize their shoreline. Our survey of 246 Natural Edge Program participants showed that a lack of time also creates a knowledge barrier as people do not know how or what to plant (Natural Edge, 2020). Eighty-four percent of landowners said they are not confident in knowing what to plant on their shoreline, and 98% of landowners said the guidance and education from the Natural Edge Program was critical to their participation in shoreline naturalization (Natural Edge, 2020).

Lack of education and awareness are issues often cited in discussions regarding riparian zone issues. Effectively changing or mitigating the continuation of shoreline degradation will necessitate reducing these barriers. The Natural Edge Program reduces financial, knowledge-based, and experiential barriers for all Canadians to participate in shoreline restoration. We do this by designing shoreline restoration plans easily on-site with a landowner in less than an hour. Individual property conditions and personal preferences are easily incorporated into each custom restoration plan.

There is no other program that pools all of these resources together as a ready-to-go program, and it is available right now for you! There are many trained community organizations across Canada who deliver the Natural Edge Program; find the closest one to you here.

Because of the Natural Edge Program, over 104,000 native plants have restored 216,000 square metres of shoreline since 2013! You can join hundreds of other Canadians who are taking action right now to protect what they love. Click here to book your Natural Edge site visit for 2023. By doing so, you will help you protect your local lake for generations of wildlife and people to come.

References

Dennison, C. (2020). The Future of our Shores. Watersheds Canada. Retrieved from: https://watersheds.ca/pfos-resources.

Kipp, S. and Callway, C. (2003). On the Living Edge: Your Handbook for Waterfront Living. Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.

Love Your Lake. (2021). 2013-2021 summary report. Watersheds Canada. Retrieved from: https://watersheds.ca/our-work/love-your-lake.

Natural Edge. (2022). Participating landowner evaluation results report (2017-2022). Watersheds Canada. Retrieved from: https://watersheds.ca/our-impact.

Zhang, X., Liu, X., Zhang, M., Dahlgren, R.A. and M. Eitzel. (2010). A Review of Vegetated Buffers and a Meta-analysis of Their Mitigation Efficacy in Reducing Nonpoint Source Pollution. J. Environ. Qual., 39: 76–84.

Media Release – Thousand Islands Area Residents’ Association facilitates education and restoration workshop with residents and Watersheds Canada’s Natural Edge Program

Perth, ON, June 29, 2022 – A recent stewardship and education event for Thousand Islands property owners showed them how the actions they take on their properties can directly protect their river’s health.

Neighbours and property owners attended a planting demonstration workshop on June 2, 2022 to learn about the many benefits of having a naturalized shoreline. Attendees could then immediately put that information into practice as they helped plant 138 native plants on two properties. In just a few hours, 286m2 of shoreline was restored using native plants. Restoring shoreline with native plants is an example of a nature-based solution that protects shorelines from erosion and flooding impacts, provides critical wildlife habitat, and provides increased shoreline resiliency in the wake of climate change.

“During the floods of 2017 and 2019, we realized how vulnerable our shoreline was,” said Blu Mackintosh, a shoreline property owner in the Thousand Islands Area. “When the water receded, we were left with erosion and bare ground at the water’s edge. There should have been vegetation providing habitat for wildlife there, helping to keep the water healthy and clean. We approached Watersheds Canada for a ‘Natural Edge’ planting plan to make our shoreline stable and beautiful with native wild plants and cope with weather extremes.”

“TIARA (the Thousand Islands Area Residents’ Association) was happy to get involved by sending volunteers to help on the actual planting day. We hope other waterfront landowners will take advantage of this program to protect their shorelines in a natural and sustainable way”, Mackintosh adds.

The Natural Edge Program works directly with landowners and community groups to restore shoreline areas using native plants and the Natural Edge iOS App that creates a customized planting plan for each property. Plants are chosen by the landowner based on their personal preferences and the site conditions found on their property. Plants like Allegheny Serviceberry, Spotted Joe-Pye Weed, and Nannyberry were chosen for the two properties planted on June 2nd because they are deep-rooted and have complex root systems, making them ideal for shoreline stabilization and controlling erosion typically experienced on the St. Lawrence River.

“Nature-based solutions are strategic actions that can be taken by property owners to protect or restore terrestrial and aquatic areas in their community”, said Chloe Lajoie, Natural Edge Program Manager at Watersheds Canada. “Our Natural Edge Program is an example of a nature-based solution. By restoring shorelines with native plant species, individuals can address the challenges they are experiencing on their property. This integrated approach sees people working with nature to combat climate change and biodiversity loss while supporting sustainable development and recreational activities on their property.”

The St. Lawrence River is just one of many Canadian freshwater bodies that benefited from the national launch of the Natural Edge Program in 2021-2022. The national launch took place across British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick. It was possible because of a generous donation from the RBC Foundation through RBC Tech for Nature, a global, multi-year commitment to support new ideas, technologies, and partnerships to address our most complex environmental challenges.

“At RBC, we believe in the power of innovative technologies to address and scale solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time,” said Valerie Chort, Vice-President, Corporate Citizenship & Sustainability, RBC. “We’re proud to have worked alongside Watersheds Canada and the Natural Edge Program to develop real-world, scalable solutions to tackle the challenges that continue to plague our environment.”

A list of trained partners who currently deliver the Natural Edge Program across Canada can be found on the Natural Edge Program’s website: https://naturaledge.watersheds.ca. Property owners who are interested in renaturalizing and restoring their shoreline can participate in the Natural Edge Program by contacting a delivery partner located near them or they can use the free tools and guides on the Natural Edge website to get started on their own. The Natural Edge website includes four extensive resource guides, a Canada-wide Native Plant Database, and tutorial videos that can help landowners succeed at every stage of their shoreline restoration efforts.

About Watersheds Canada
Watersheds Canada is a national non-profit charitable organization that works with landowners, communities, and organizations to enhance and protect lakes and rivers through developing effective and transferable long-term solutions. Watersheds Canada envisions people caring for their waters, resulting in clean, healthy lakes and rivers to support humans and wildlife for years to come. Learn more at Watersheds.ca

-30-

Media contact:
Chloe Lajoie
Natural Edge Program Manager
Watersheds Canada
naturaledge@watersheds.ca

Watersheds Canada launches an email campaign to rescind Ford’s Bill 23

Save more shorelands faster is the priority missing in the Ford government’s “More Homes Built Faster” Act, Bill 23. 

The Bill supports the Ontario government’s plan to immediately build 1.5 million new homes by 2031 by bringing in changes to ten provincial Acts, some of which have been key to addressing waterfront development, the protection of freshwater, as well as upholding taxpayer’s rights to stand up for a healthy and sustainable environment. 

The Bill’s rationale is to increase the supply of urban residential development but has failed to consider the implications of these changes on sensitive areas such as freshwater lakes and rivers. 

“A house is not a home (or cottage) without natural features. Vegetated shoreland buffers that are imposed as a development condition in some Site Plan Control by-laws help mitigate erosion impacts, protect fish, wildlife habitat, and water quality, and reduce the impacts of flooding,” said Robert Pye, Executive Director of Watersheds Canada, an environmental charity that has consulted tens of thousands of concerned waterfront property owners, developers, and municipal staff across Canada. 

The common theme from stakeholders is that we all want the same thing: a healthy environment to support a healthy economy. The protection, maintenance, and restoration of vegetated shoreland buffers not only increase one’s property value, but supports healthy fishing and tourism industries. 

“Watersheds Canada believes that land use planning relies on the local knowledge and leadership of municipalities,” said Pye. “Now is not the time to weaken climate change resiliency measures utilized through Site Plan Control, nor is it fair to our environmental future to revoke municipal oversight and an individual’s right to comment on land use changes affecting their local watersheds.” 

Bill 23 was introduced hours after votes were counted in the municipal election. For months, local government officials, planners, residents and lake associations have been engaged in shoreland protection resources from Watersheds Canada’s Planning for our Shorelands program. 

How are we going to protect natural freshwater features and waterfront homes in the wake of climate change and increased shoreline developments? That’s the question Watersheds Canada has been empowering communities to consider through the proactive delivery of practical policy resources and public outreach.

Now the future of lakes, rivers, and shorelands must face Bill 23 which seeks to prohibit Site Plan Control, a development review process under Section 41 of the Planning Act, from being used to ensure the maintenance or restoration of vegetated shoreland buffers as a condition for approved development. 

Pye added that despite everything Watersheds Canada has been doing to promote shoreline protection, especially as city homes have been sold for the move to permanent rural waterfront residence, Bill 23 takes leadership away from municipal decision-makers including Conservation Authorities and other local stakeholders. 

Watersheds Canada is calling for MPPs throughout Ontario to rescind Bill 23. Watersheds Canada takes a stand against Bill 23 due to the harmful impacts it will have to freshwater lakes and rivers in Ontario.  We believe in our freshwater stewardship resources, outreach initiatives and habitat programs that have encouraged municipal leaders and residents to live and develop in a sustainable manner. 

Please take a moment to share this message with your email and social media network and voice your concern about Bill 23 by signing our petition.

“Amazing real-world learning” for students, Morrisburg residents restoring park’s waterfront

Newly added native plants on the shores of the Morrisburg Waterfront Park will make the area more welcoming for local residents and the wildlife who utilize this ‘ribbon of life’.

Shoreline ecosystems, or riparian zones, are especially valuable habitat for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. The shoreline area includes the first 30-metres of land around a freshwater body. It is considered the ‘ribbon of life’ because it supports 70% of land-based wildlife and 90% of aquatic species at some point in their lifetime as they use it for food, water, shelter, and breeding.

The ribbon of life along the Morrisburg Waterfront Park was in need of some extra help. Local resident Michael Burton heard about Watersheds Canada’s Natural Edge Program through a friend who had participated in the program on their own property. The Natural Edge is a shoreline renaturalization program that helps individuals and community groups restore their shorelines by planting native species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.

“It is important for the river to stay natural and healthy for people to use”, said Michael. “This park is the heart of the community and we want to make it a place where there are things to do and it connects people with the history of the area and to nature.”

At the centre of the park, within the pavement, is a compass design which signals back to the history of town and allows people to stop and remember this rich history. New lighting has also been installed along the shoreline.

Involving the next generation of environmental stewards has been a focused priority during the park’s ecological restoration. This has included tree plantings by local Guides, Pixies, and Sparks groups, and most recently a planting by the Agricultural Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) class at Seaway District High School on October 25, 2022. This investment from children and youth as they plant native species will be something they treasure throughout their lives every time they visit the park with their family and friends.

“Today we were able to bring sixteen students out to learn about soil erosion and water quality”, said Heather Thompson, Teacher, Agricultural SHSM Lead for Seaway District High School. “This was an opportunity for real-world learning and we are happy to help. This opportunity was a great way for Morrisburg-local students to learn from and connect with other volunteers to plant 200 native plant species”.

Jason Broad, the new Mayor Elect for the Municipality of South Dundas, was also on-site to help get plants in the ground. “I was in the council meeting as a visitor when this project was first approved and am glad to be a part of this project on my first day as Mayor Elect. These plants will enhance the visual sightlines for residents and tourists visiting the park, and will improve what we already have.”

This project was generously funded by TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, and was a success thanks to Seaway District High School, local Morrisburg residents and volunteers, and Watersheds Canada.

Eligible waterfront property landowners in the St. Lawrence River watershed who want to restore their shoreline can participate in the Natural Edge Program in 2023. Each participating landowner will receive a free site visit which provides advice and recommendations to improve shoreline health. If planting is recommended, a Shoreline Re-Naturalization Starter Kit can be purchased which includes the creation of a shoreline restoration plan for the property, native plants and materials, as well as education guides on how to maintain shoreline health. Each customized restoration plan will provide detailed descriptions of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers suitable for planting based on site conditions and landowner preferences. To learn more about what is included in a kit and its cost, please visit naturaledge.watersheds.ca/

About Watersheds Canada

Watersheds Canada is a federally incorporated non-profit organization and registered Canadian charity committed to providing programs to communities across the country that work to engage and help shoreline owners enhance and protect the health of lakes and rivers. Learn more: watersheds.ca/

Septic Systems: they may be out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind!

written by Terri-Lee Reid

When you love your lake, you will want to make sure your septic system is functioning properly. Improperly treated wastewater may contain bacteria, viruses, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Inadequate treatment can result in an overabundance of weeds and algal blooms. This can make a lake unpleasant for swimming and boating, affect water quality, fish, wildlife, and their habitats, and it can cause health risks for people.

Maintaining your septic system is your responsibility! Follow these helpful tips to make sure your septic system keeps functioning properly.

Septic System Do’s:

  • Know where your tank and drain field are.
  • Reduce your water use to keep solid sludge settled on the bottom of the tank.
  • Have your septic system inspected and pumped regularly and keep a record of all maintenance work.
  • Have this done by a licensed professional. Get the contractor to check the scum and sludge depth, inspect for any large cracks or deterioration and check the fit of access lids.
  • How often you do this depends on the size of your tank, how many people are in your household and how much it is being used. A general rule of thumb is to have a septic tank inspected and pumped every three to five years.
  • Holding tanks may have to be pumped as often as every week, depending on its size and usage. Check your tank regularly and have it pumped before it reaches its capacity.
  • The best time to pump out your septic tank is summer and early fall. This ensures the tank will have time to refill and re-establish bacterial activity before winter.
  • For systems that receive little to no use over winter, keep about one foot of liquid in the tank to support bacterial action and to reduce any damage from freezing.
  • Keep your septic system accessible so it can be properly maintained.
  • Keep a perimeter around the edge of the drain field clear of trees and shrubs. How big of a perimeter depends on the species – be sure to do some research!

Septic System Don’ts:

  • Don’t drive or park vehicles on top of your drain field; this can compact the soil and damage pipes.
  • Don’t use cleaners, soaps and detergents with phosphates.
  • Don’t use septic additives. They are not necessary or effective and some may harm your system.
  • Don’t flush anything that you didn’t produce, except for toilet paper! That means no fats, grease, paints, cat litter, sanitary products, diapers, wipes, cigarette butts or kitchen waste.
  • Don’t water your lawn over the drain field.

What to do if your septic system isn’t working properly
It’s time to call for help from a professional if:

  • Your toilets or drains are backed up
  • You have foul smells inside and/or outside your house
  • You find soft or spongy ground over the drain field
  • Your drain field has patches of abnormally healthy-looking grass on it
  • There’s surface water leaking into the holding tank
  • You are requesting fewer than normal pump outs on your holding tank

For more information on how you can show your lake some love, visit LoveYourLake.ca. Love Your Lake is a shoreline naturalization program developed by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Watersheds Canada.

The benefits of vegetated riprap

Developed shorelines have a higher risk of erosion and often require protection of upland areas. The best way to stabilize your shoreline for long-term protection is by enhancing or creating a natural shoreline buffer consisting of native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and grasses. If, however, your shoreline requires a stronger approach than plants alone, consider installing vegetated riprap instead of typical retaining walls or gabion baskets (Natural Edge, 2022). Riprap uses natural stone/rock placed on a gentle 3:1 angled slope to absorb wave energy on the shoreline (Natural Edge, 2022). To mitigate the issue of traditional riprap not providing sufficient wildlife and fish habitat within the riparian zone, rocks can be combined with native vegetation to provide greater erosion control and habitat preservation (Tron & Raymond, 2014).

Vegetated riprap is both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly for water bodies needing continuous and resistive bank protection (Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development [ESRD], 2011). Vegetated riprap is especially effective against high water, aggressive water flow, and ice movement (Otty Lake Association, 2017). Vegetated riprap offers the immediate and long-term protection afforded by traditional riprap as well as habitat benefits from the creation of a healthy riparian buffer (ESRD, 2011). 

From an economic perspective, rocks are less expensive and more readily available than materials used in many other hardening techniques (ESRD, 2011). Since riprap consists of many small rocks, the overall structure is not compromised by the movement of a few rocks or shifts in the shoreline or bottom soil (Otty Lake Association, 2017). Therefore, riprap has the ability to self-adjust and, if needed, can be easily repaired by adding more rock (ESRD, 2011). The use of rough, angular-shaped rock is preferred over smooth, rounded stone because rough rocks can interlock and better resist overturning. Riprap design should consider the source of the rock in relation to sediment introduction as well as the size, type, and configuration of the rock with regard to its hydraulic relationship. Rock is an ecologically favourable material to use over other hardening materials such as concrete or steel because the rough substrate is available for invertebrates to colonize and can enhance aquatic habitat (ESRD, 2011). 

When native vegetation is included in the riprap structure, the root systems lock the rocks in place preventing damage to the riprap and improving the riprap’s resiliency (Natural Edge, 2022). Additionally, deep-rooted vegetation, like trees and shrubs, can bind and stabilize the soil along your shoreline, reducing the risk of property loss caused by erosion (Natural Edge, 2020). Using their extensive root systems, these plants will act as barriers to reduce surface runoff, slow floodwaters, and filter pollutants and excess nutrients, thus improving water quality (Natural Edge, 2022). Plants also improve drainage of the slope by removing water from the soil through uptake and transpiration (ESRD, 2011).

In addition to shoreline protection, native vegetation is a vital part of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and improves the aesthetic value and natural appearance of the shoreline property (ESRD, 2011). Overhanging branches and vegetation also provide cover, shade to cool the water, organic debris, food sources like insects, an easy transition from land to water, and other crucial habitat features for fish, frogs, turtles, waterfowl, and other wildlife (Natural Edge, 2020). To soften existing riprap, plant native vegetation behind the riprap and above or between the rocks, moving rocks if necessary to create space (Otty Lake Association, 2017).

To study the effects of vegetation on riprap stability, an analysis was conducted on the vegetated riprap installation along the Columbia River riverbank in British Columbia in 2013 (Tron & Raymond, 2014). While investigating the root system development within the vegetated riprap, it was determined that the additional root cohesion was more effective in the deeper soil layer predominated by the soil matrix (Tron & Raymond, 2014). Additionally, the roots did not increase the cohesion in the upper soil layer, which contains a larger particle size, but rather acted as a network to tie the rocks of the riprap together (Tron & Raymond, 2014).

Vegetated riprap is a biotechnical stabilization technique that combines structural and vegetative elements together in an integrated manner (ESRD, 2011). The rough surfaces of the rocks help to minimize wave action while plantings between the rocks and behind the riprap facilitate the erosion control and create wildlife habitat (Natural Edge, 2022). If an engineer has advised you that creating a natural shoreline buffer is not a strong enough approach for your shoreline property, consider installing vegetated riprap for long-term shoreline protection against erosion. Ensure the qualified engineers or contractors installing your vegetated riprap take all necessary precautions to protect your shoreline and the waterbody during construction (Natural Edge, 2022). This includes the responsible use of heavy equipment to prevent interference with existing vegetation and habitat as well as proper sediment barriers to prevent water quality issues and damage to fish and wildlife populations (Natural Edge, 2022). Please note the need for permits for work in or near water and the governing body responsible for those permits varies from region to region. Be sure to check with your local municipality, conservation authority (if applicable), appropriate provincial ministry and/or appropriate federal department for the permits to do work in or around water.

References

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. (2011). Lake Shoreline Stabilization Techniques. Government of Alberta. https://www.parklandcounty.com/en/live-and-play/resources/Documents/PRC/iceheave/Shoreline-Stabilization-Sample-Plans.pdf

Natural Edge (2020). Shoreline habitat creation manual. Watersheds Canada. https://watersheds.ca/habitat-creation-manual-download/

Natural Edge (2022). Guide to building resilient shorelines. Watersheds Canada. https://watersheds.ca/download-building-resilient-shorelines-guide/

Otty Lake Association. (2017). Otty Lake Shoreline Handbook. https://www.ottylakeassociation.ca/documents/otty_lake_shoreline_handbook.pdf

Tron, S., & Raymond, P. (2014). Analysis of root reinforcement of vegetated riprap. EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts, 16(4928). https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2014EGUGA..16.4928T

This blog is part of a five-part series generously funded under the Great Lakes Protection Initiative – Areas of Concern (AOC) Program by Environment and Climate Change Canada. This three-year project will support important shoreline restoration in the St. Lawrence River AOC through the Natural Edge Program, and is being delivered by Watersheds Canada, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, River Institute, Great River Network, and Raisin Region Conservation Authority.