Let’s declare independence from pesticides and plastic

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that our nation is exporting “freedom gas,” and “molecules of freedom,” truly Orwellian terms for liquefied natural gas. As we celebrate Independence Day this month, River Hill watershed protectors offer an alternative perspective: Let’s increase our freedom from fossil fuels, starting with pesticides and plastics.  By reducing our dependence […]

Let’s increase biodiversity one lawn at a time

The recent scary report on global biodiversity offers a stark assessment of human beings’ gigantic footprint on our Earth. A million plants and animals face extinction within decades because of our actions. The evidence is “ominous” and “unprecedented,” experts said in a recent UN report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services […]

Protect your watershed by taking a bite out of climate change

You are what you eat, sure. Turns out the climate – and your watershed – are also what you eat. Consider, for example, that backyard-grilling-favorite: the burger. For starters, eating a cow is a very roundabout and inefficient way to get protein. One estimate is that it takes 25 kilograms of grain to produce 1 […]

We’re springing a test on you

Pop quiz: What’s wrong with this picture? Answer: Just about everything. “Mulch volcanos” are a mysterious aesthetic that can kill trees. Mulch should not touch tree bark.  Properly applied around the base, mulch is great for trees. It will help control weeds, retain moisture in soil, provide insulation for roots in extreme temperatures, and reduce […]

It’s cleanup time

We need to clean up our act. Fortunately, cleaning up can be fun – especially with many helping hands. On March 30, we are piggybacking on the Columbia Cleans/Spring Cleanup, organizing our annual cleanup in River Hill. The cleanup is an enjoyable activity for teens and families, and students can get community service credits. Each […]

Give a valentine to your watershed

Let’s send some valentines to our watershed. These valentines will protect our health and that of our rivers and land. What’s not to love about that? Skip the salt. Winter is rough on the Middle Patuxent River and its tributaries. Much of the salt we spread on our roads, driveways and sidewalks ends up in […]

A year of protecting our watershed

Turns out our monthly tips add up to a handy guidebook with steps everyone can take to protect our watershed. What better way to start the year than to review the basics. True, we can’t start with a clean slate, as it were. Our waterways are in a heap of trouble, thanks to runoff from […]

Gifts that keep giving for our watershed

During this season of giving, add a little something for your watershed. Healthy watersheds provide many services that aren’t obviously attached to dollar signs, including filtering and storing water, filtering air, storing carbon, forming soil, and providing recreation and food.  So, let’s consider gifts we could offer our watershed: Break the single-use plastic habit. After […]

Thankful for leaves

Better to act on this one watershed tip than to curse the leaves. Most homeowners spend hours raking (or blowing), bagging and hauling away leaves. If you think of leaves as free food for the soil, however, you’ll be thankful you have them. In fact, some estimates are that the leaves from one tree are […]

Help plant our not-so-secret garden

At a fork in the pathways behind the Columbia Gym is a bit of paradise-in-the-making. Usually twice a year, in spring and fall, the River Hill Watershed Committee and helpful students and families have been rescuing an ever-larger piece of the woods from invasives while planting natives in their place. We hope you’ll join us […]

Watershed Palooza: the sequel

At this year’s Watershed Palooza, we’ll have the perfect back-to-school alternative for single-use plastic sandwich bags: colorful DIY beeswax wraps. We’ll show you how to make one and send you home with one to try out and directions to make more. All this and much more for children and adults will be at the River […]

Be fantastic: Skip the plastic

Alaska Airlines and American Airlines; Ikea and Starbucks; Seattle and Miami Beach; and Taiwan and the United Kingdom have one thing in common: They are ditching the plastic straw. We hope local restaurants and other businesses will join this effort and heed the message spelled out in the River Hill Watershed Advisory Committee’s colorful Independence […]

Pilot program in River Hill uses barley straw to prevent algae blooms

Pea soup is never a good look for ponds. The tell-tale nasty green scum means algae is growing out of control, sucking up oxygen that fish and other creatures need to survive. A major cause of these algal blooms is us – or rather stormwater runoff that has picked up excess fertilizer and abandoned dog […]

Greenie Girl takes on plastic pollution

The watershed moment for Iris Zhan was the documentary “Bag It” shown in a sixth-grade science class at Clarksville Middle School. The film is about the “dirty little secret” of the ubiquitous plastic bag – that they are made to be thrown away but don’t ever go away. It follows one man’s realizations about single-use […]

What on earth is the RH Watershed Advisory Committee?

  Plastic bags and dog poop, fertilizers and pesticides, oil and road salt all have something in common: They end up in our waterways, with disastrous results. So, about six years ago, residents – including students – formed the River Hill Watershed Advisory Committee to figure out ways to lessen the harm, spread the word, […]

Spring refresher course

After a lingering and cold winter, our yards are calling out for attention. Here’s a quick refresher to keep in mind as you step outside: KEEP MULCH AWAY FROM TREE BARK:  Properly applied around the base, mulch is great for trees. It will help control weeds, retain moisture in soil, provide insulation for roots in […]

Get schooled on mini gardens, rain gardens and more

Getting started is often the biggest challenge. Fortunately, the Howard County Master Gardeners is offering four free evening seminars in River Hill in March and April that will have you ready to grow some vegetables, slow stormwater runoff and improve your soil. Attend as many sessions as you want. All are on Mondays from 7 […]

A year of protecting our watershed

Turns out our monthly tips add up to a handy guidebook with steps everyone can take to protect our watershed. What better way to start the year than to review the basics. True, we can’t start with a clean slate, as it were. Our waterways are in a heap of trouble, thanks to runoff from […]

Tell your restaurant server: “No straw, please.”

On a lovely November morning, area students worked with the Watershed Committee to pull nasty trash from a stream meandering along the River Hill paths. In just two hours, we filled nine giant bags – seven of trash and two of recyclables – mostly with plastic. In the water and embedded in the streambed and […]

FOG in the bin, not in the drain

For cooks getting ready to do battle in the kitchen over the holidays, beware the FOG of war. In this case, FOG means Fats, Oils and Grease, which when poured down the drain can clog pipes – both at home and in the county’s sewer system. In the most extreme cases, all that FOG combines […]

 Trick (and treat) for better soil, lawns and gardens

  For the fall, we offer a trick that will be welcome treat for your yard and gardens. Instead of raking and bagging leaves, consider mowing them. When you think of leaves as free food for the soil, you’ll no longer want to spend hours getting rid of them. In fact, some estimates are that […]

Make a seed bomb and much more at the WatershedPalooza

Seeds have a tough life. They need to hide for long periods in moist soil while avoiding strong winds, the blazing sun, and hungry birds and other critters. Coming to the rescue is the ultimate oxymoron:  the seed bomb. Combine a bit of clay, compost and native seeds, form a ball and then toss it […]

 WatershedPalooza promises afternoon of fun and learning

For children who want to learn how to invite toads into the yard, the fall WatershedPalooza will be the place to be. Toads, by the way, love to chomp on mosquitoes and other insect pests such as gypsy moth caterpillars. Or perhaps making butterfly baths and bat houses or learning about wildlife and pollinator gardens […]

The last (plastic) straw

We are grasping at straws. Plastic straws, that is. Americans use about 500 million straws a day, nearly two a day for each of the nation’s 320,000 people. Lined up end to end, those straws would reach around the world more than two and a half times. Every day. Whether colorful or clear, bendable or […]

What’s all this fuss about invasive plants?

“A biological wildfire is gradually consuming large areas of the American landscape,” a U.S. Interior Department official wrote in a 1998 Fact Book. That biological wildfire is invasive plants. Yet, the analogy falls away, the official explained, because plants rejuvenate after a forest fire. That is not the case with invasive plants, which he described […]

Rain gardens yield results and rebates

Rain gardens in River Hill just got even more enticing. Columbia has expanded its cost-sharing program to residents in all the villages. In addition, all county residents installing a rain garden can get a one-time partial reimbursement and reduce their annual Watershed Protection fee. Rain gardens are a stunning addition to the typical suburban lawn. […]

Resolve to reduce, reuse and recycle to protect our watershed

One key to protecting our watershed is buying less stuff. Less stuff equals less water use and less water pollution. Buying less involves the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. Let’s begin the New Year with a pledge to put the three Rs into action, to take them to heart. Here are some easy ways […]

The gift of the watershed

  We on the River Hill Watershed Committee are always asking you to give, give, give to your watershed. Do this. Don’t do that. We will continue to do so, but this season of gift-giving is a good time to reflect on what a clean watershed does for us. One of the best examples of […]

Turn leaves into food for your lawn and garden

  Dear Watershed Wizard, Fall is such a lovely time of year, yet I spend more time than I’d like raking and bagging leaves and listening to loud leaf blowers throughout the neighborhood. There has got to be a better way. What do you recommend? – I’d rather be hiking  Dear I’d rather be hiking, […]

Blowing the whistle on leaf blowers

For some, they’re a time-saving godsend for the perfectly coiffed lawn. For others, they are an ear-piercing, fume-belching abomination. Welcome to the suburban battlefield. When choosing sides, keep in mind that the omnipresent leaf blowers create many hazards for our health, soil and watershed. For starters, a leaf blower blows much more than leaves. Gardeners […]

Key to zapping Zika is emptying containers of standing water weekly

Dear Watershed Wizard: A rather large stormwater pond is near my house. I had never given it much thought, but with all the news about the Zika virus and mosquitoes, I’m starting to worry. Will Columbia Association or the county spray to get rid of mosquitoes that carry Zika? And, if so, will we be […]

Our plastic reckoning

On the lawn was the evidence: plastic cereal bags, fruit and vegetable bags and containers, bulk food containers, one cup, a stack of glittery bowls leftover from a birthday party. Two members of the watershed committee kept every item of single-use plastic our families used during July – as part of the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge. Some […]

The Watershed Wizard Is In

The River Hill Watershed Committee is starting a new feature this month: Dear Watershed Wizard. Send us your questions — about stormwater runoff, lawns, gardens, rain gardens, downspouts, fertilizer, invasive plants, native plants, plastic pollution and other watershed matters — and we’ll do our best to reply. Pose your questions on our Facebook page or […]

We can all be mosquito-busters

A mere two tablespoons of water can be the breeding ground for up to 300 mosquitoes. That’s why Danielle Bodner, environmental program assistant at Columbia Association, is on the speakers’ circuit in Columbia’s villages with a single message: Get rid of standing water. “A lot of people think ponds are the [main] sources of mosquitoes,” […]

The case of the purloined plant

  The hole was easy to spot. Where a thriving creeping phlox should have been was a 6-inch gouge in the soil. The River Hill Watershed Committee and other community volunteers were a tad shocked by this poaching — but ready to carry on. With shovels and gloves, pruners and loppers, wagons full of serviceberry, […]

Downspout detectives

Never trust a downspout. Some shoot rain onto the driveway or sidewalk, sending water to the road and storm drains. Others are aimed onto steep slopes or onto a neighbor’s yard. For downspouts, the devil is in the direction. Downspouts are a tool for directing away from foundations the rain pouring off the roof. If the […]

Watershed moments this weekend

The River Hill Watershed Committee has two fun activities planned this weekend. River Hill Cleans: We hope you’ll join us on Saturday, April 23, from 9 a.m. to noon, and help pick up plastic bottles and other trash that has accumulated over the winter along River Hill pathways. This is a fun activity for families. Meet at Claret […]

Help your lawn go native

  Look out your window. At too many suburban homes, the view is of a large expanse of grass with a few exotic, ornamental shrubs and trees along the edges. What’s unseen in the view are the fertilizers, pesticides, gasoline, lawn-mower pollution (one hour of gas-mower use equals a 100-mile car trip), water, and time […]

Plants to use vs plants to lose

When planning your spring yard and gardens, please avoid non-native invasive plants. Instead choose native plants that, once established, will be more drought resistant, require less maintenance, and that will be appreciated by local birds, butterflies and other insects. For plenty of ideas for native plants, download our  presentation of Plants to Use vs Plants […]

Give your lawn a spring makeover

Planning a spring garden is the perfect remedy for the last days of our chaotic winter. For help getting started, be sure to attend the River Hill Watershed Committee’s presentation on Wednesday, March 16, at 7 p.m., of Plants to Use vs. Plants to Lose. Also included is a Master Gardener presentation on fescue lawn […]

Bugs complain about our streams

The state of many of our streams is poor. That unfortunate assessment is based on 2015 research by Howard County’s Stream Waders, who sampled aquatic creatures (benthic macro invertebrates) in a River Hill stream in the Middle Patuxent and in seven other Howard County waterways. Alan Pflugrad, a watershed steward and co-chair of the King’s Contrivance […]

Let’s put our waterways on a low-sodium diet

As soon as we start slip-sliding away on sidewalks and driveways, many of us reach for the bag of salt. Throughout the winter, stacks of rock-salt bags lie in wait in grocery stores and garden centers. But let’s avoid that temptation this year. Let’s use a de-icer that is less harmful to our waterways and […]

Help stop the horror of stormwater erosion

To get in the Halloween mood, send us your erosion horror photos. Maybe a path near you is several inches above the ground now, because so much soil has washed away. Or perhaps your yard has an area where topsoil has been washed away, exposing roots of trees. Before Columbia and the rest of Howard […]

Free fall advice —and native plants

Wanted: Good homes for free plants. The River Hill Watershed Committee has plants for you to win. All are native to Maryland and, therefore, will be more resistant to drought, freezing and diseases, and, once established, require less water and other maintenance than non-natives. What’s the catch? Just come to one of our many free […]

A hands-on approach to hands-off yard work

It’s 11 a.m. Do you know where your lawn-care contractor is? If you’ve handed off mowing, weeding, fertilizing and mulching to the professionals, chances are you don’t give your yard much thought. Other than to admire it. After all, you’re paying someone to do the hard work for you. Not all lawn-care professionals, however, are […]

Break the plastic water-bottle habit

We have swallowed the Kool-Aid on plastic bottles of water. Among the evidence is the giant bag of plastic bottles discarded along our trails that we’ve collected over the past couple months. Nearly 200 bottles and counting. Water in plastic bottles is expensive, wastes resources, and too often ends up contaminating our waterways — and […]

Finally, a big problem with an easy solution

One of the greatest threats to our waterways is dog waste. Dog poop on the ground is a pile of pathogens waiting to cause problems. Left to decompose on yards and pathways, it seeps into the soil and washes into our streams and rivers or, gulp, drinking water sources. This scourge on our rivers and […]

We all win with the Green Bin

Users of the Green Bin help turn wilting food scraps into mighty soil; tame rushing stormwater into a trickle; bypass dangerous pesticides and fertilizers; save space in landfills and reduce global warming. The Green Bin is also free. But nearly 60 percent of River Hill residents have yet to discover the wonders of the Green […]

Love your watershed

Here’s our watershed tip for February: Let’s send valentines to our watershed. They are valentines to protect our health and the health of our rivers and land. Which are really the same thing. ♥Winter is rough on our Middle Patuxent River and its tributaries. Much of the salt we spread on our roads, driveways and […]

Invasives at the MPEA

The Hickory Ridge Community Association and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA) will co-sponsor a FREE presentation about ecological stewardship with a focus on combatting invasive plants in the MPEA on Tuesday, February 24 from 7-9 pm at The Hawthorn Center. Davey Rogner, MPEA’s Invasive Species Project Manager and Executive Director of The Harvest Collective, […]

Weed warriors attack invasive plants

“Did this escape from your yard?” John McCoy, the Columbia Association watershed manager, asked one of the volunteers as he yanked out an English Ivy vine on the banks of the large stormwater pond next to the Columbia Gym. The answer was no, but that English ivy came from someone’s backyard, where it was no […]

Step away from the fertilizer

The blackout phase is upon us. The blackout phase for fertilizer, that is. Between Nov. 16 and March 1, Maryland law prohibits homeowners from applying fertilizer to lawns. The law, which went into effect last fall, is part of the state’s effort to keep excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, out of our waterways. And […]

Weed Warrior Pictures

Recycle those food scraps

Garbage in, garbage out? Not anymore. Since November, River Hill residents have been taking part in the county’s pilot program that turns food scraps into soil-enriching compost, all while helping the environment and saving taxpayer money. Food scraps form nearly a quarter of our garbage, which is shipped to out-of-state landfills. Left there, these food […]

The Law of the Lawn

Smoking pot in DC (once decriminalization is finalized) and applying too much fertilizer on lawns in Maryland have something in common: They are subject to civil penalties. Not that lawn police will be rounding up scofflaws anytime soon. The idea is education, according to a spokeswoman from the state Department of Agriculture. Excess fertilizer on […]

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Mulch Volcanoes

Mulch should not touch tree bark. This must come as news to some homeowners, because so many trees in our neighborhoods have a volcano-shaped heap of mulch around the base. These mulch volcanoes, as they are called, invite disease and can kill trees. Properly applied around the base, mulch is great for trees. It will […]

Getting a Handle on Plastic Bags

Plastic bags hang like ghosts in tree branches, snag on roots and rocks in streams, choke and maim wildlife, and clog storm drains. Once the epitome of convenience and modernity, they have become unsightly, wasteful, and dangerous remnants of our throw-away society. And they never go away. Americans go through more than 100 billion plastic […]

Mowing Down our Lawn Expectations

Those little yellow warning signs are sprouting like dandelions. They urge “Caution” and “Keep Off” and include a drawing of a slashing line through children and a dog. Pesticides are the danger, but the little signs are not the solution. With a few changes to our perspective and lawns, though, we could put a big […]

Bamboo is for Pandas, Not Your Yard

China’s bamboo and Europe’s English ivy don’t belong in our backyards. But too often they are there. Nurseries, developers, and homeowners have unwittingly included these fast-growing, invasive species in landscape plans. From backyards, they escape to neighbors’ yards, open space, parks, and forests, driving out native plants, reducing biodiversity, and setting up a constant and […]

Give Your Lawn a Rest

Let your lawn hibernate over the summer. During heat waves with little rain, we are often tempted to turn on sprinklers for the grass. Not necessary. In fact, all that watering encourages the growth of crab grass and summer weeds. At that point, we reach for the herbicides, and a vicious cycle is born: sprinkling […]

Pilot Compost Program Expands to River Hill

Garbage in, garbage out? Not anymore. Starting in November, River Hill residents can take part in the county’s pilot program that turns food scraps into soil-enriching compost, all while helping the environment and saving taxpayer money. Food scraps form nearly a quarter of our garbage, which is shipped to out-of-state landfills. Left there, these food […]

The Scoop on Poop and The Bay

  If you walk your dog along the River Hill paths and sidewalks, this blog post is just for you. Howard County law requires you to pick up after your pets. But there’s more to this post than heeding the law. Cleaning up after your dog has so many other benefits. Protecting our watershed. Managing […]

New Committee Focuses on Watershed Quality

With encouragement from Dipper Wettstein, a member of the Columbia Association’s Watershed Advisory Committee and River Hill’s Board of Directors, the Village Board recently chartered the River Hill Watershed Committee. The purpose of this new committee is to enhance the well-being of the community by addressing issues related to storm water runoff, erosion and watershed […]

Leaves: Bag ‘em, Don’t Blow ‘em

Winter is fast approaching, be sure to remove those leaves from your lawn on a regular basis. Leaf removal is an important part of lawn maintenance. But no matter where you live and what type of grass you have, the grass is alive even when the top growth is dormant, so maintenance doesn’t end when […]