Protecting Local Waterways with Native Plants

December 22, 2021

Ellen Sturup Comeau, Clemson Extension Water Resources Agent

Native Buffer Plant

Native Buffer Plant

Our creeks and rivers give us places to play, fish to eat, and protection from floods. However, stormwater runoff threatens our waterways. According to the EPA, stormwater runoff is the greatest threat to water quality. In South Carolina, more than 1,150 of our rivers are considered “impaired.”  An “impaired” waterway is too polluted to meet accepted water quality standards, usually from pollutants known to enter our waterways through stormwater runoff. Stormwater is precipitation that falls from the sky. It becomes polluted when it moves over pollution left behind on impervious surfaces such as roads and sidewalks. Common pollutants include litter, bacteria from pet waste, sediment, and excess nutrients from fertilizers. Impervious surfaces do not allow water to soak into the ground but instead direct stormwater runoff into storm drains and ditches. Storm drains lead directly to our local waterways without any form of treatment. Therefore, any pollution stormwater runoff picks up ends up in our creeks and rivers.

An easy way to protect our creeks and rivers from stormwater runoff is to plant native plants wherever possible. Native plants naturally grow in a region and are adapted to the unique local soil and climate conditions. Native plants are both beautiful and hardy.  They need little to no fertilizer, pesticides, or irrigation once established.  Residents who use native plants save money, time, and local waterways by not buying or applying fertilizers and pesticides that can pollute their local rivers. Native plants are especially effective at protecting water quality when planted as a buffer between a property and a waterway. These plants have extensive root systems that stabilize soil, preventing bank erosion. Buffers of native plants also protect water quality by filtering runoff. A native plant buffer intercepts contaminated stormwater runoff, slows the water down, and gives pollutants time to drop out of suspension or get taken up by the plants themselves.

Find more information on native plants (including a searchable database) here.  or at the Clemson HGIC.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.


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