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Befriending a river

When you use a river for recreation, you get to know the river. The relationship you have with the river helps you see how you can befriend the river. In the last decade, many volunteers have actively been addressing the water quality of the Big Bureau Creek and the Illinois River.

Many groups have been learning more about riparian habitats on the stream banks and shores of the river. Clean-up efforts to remove trash from the creeks and rivers have succeeded well, thanks to volunteers young and old. Wherever you live and work and play, you have a responsibility to befriend a river – to keep it free from debris, sediment and pollutants.

The river water is recharged by rainfall (and snowmelt) from surface water that runs off and from stored groundwater recharged by rainfall that infiltrates the ground beneath the surface. What you put on the ground or inject into the ground has the potential for affecting river water quality.

All of the ditches, creeks and waterways through the fields connect to a river. Your tax dollars have supported farmers with cost-share dollars to apply best soil management practices to many acres of highly-erodible land in Bureau County to keep sediment out of the river. Conservation-minded landowners have done much to improve river water quality using many forms of conservation practices including grass waterways, streambank stabilization, grass and tree buffers and conservation tillage.

Wetlands provide a natural management system. They clean water, recharge water supplies, reduce flood risks and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Wetlands also can provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, and sites for research and education. As a landowner you can consider saving or restoring wetlands where they have been destroyed by development.

In the cities and towns with curbs and gutters the water runs off to storm sewers that flow to a river. Individual landowners can find ways to keep the water on their own land – rain barrels, rain gardens and natural grass plantings – allowing rain to infiltrate the ground. Cities and towns can use varieties of plants around parking lots and buildings that increase water uptake. Restored wetlands can be used to filter urban pollutants and sediment from storm water before it empties into the river.

When we experience drought conditions, we are reminded that keeping as much rainfall as possible on your own land benefits you. By keeping rainfall on your own land and keeping runoff free of pollutants; that’s the way you can befriend a river!

Emily McQueen Gann is the Administrative Resource Conservationist with the Bureau County Soil and Water Conservation District

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