An ecological lifesaver: Grassed waterways

Many landowners are interested in preserving the wildlife on their land. The water quality of the runoff flowing from their acreage is also a matter of concern for landowners.

“Fortunately for them,” said Dirk Philipp, an assistant professor with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, “there is one way to manage both of these problems. Grassed waterway systems are a way to both preserve wildlife and water quality.”

Grassed waterways are exactly what they sound like: strips of non-woody vegetation planted along the natural drainage channels on crop or pasture land. Usually established where water runs off fields, these areas provide habitat for aquatic and field creatures both feathered and furry.

“They can also prevent soil erosion,” Philipp said, “and they improve water quality by trapping contaminants and excessive sediments.”

Philipp has a few suggestions for landowners planning grassy waterways:

• Consider soil quality, connectivity to other waterways, and the size and flow of waterways. Soil quality controls which grasses can be planted. Planters may have to adjust the size of grass strips according to water flow rates and width of runoff channels.

• While maintenance of the grassy waterway is necessary, mowing, and other activities that would disturb wildlife living in the grass, should be kept to a minimum. Mow with a flushing bar in front of the mower, only mow during the day, and delay mowing and other management activities until Aug. 1.

• Carefully consider the advantages of planting either native or non-native plants, or a combination of both. Native plants provide better shelter for native animal species, while non-native plants may be required in places with higher flow rate or where habitat is not an issue.