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U.S. Department of the Interior
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Slow the Flow Campaign

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Massachusetts

Point of Contact

Nancy Pau
(978) 465-5753


Parker River National Wildlife Refuge improves water quality in the surrounding watershed through a "Slow the Flow" campaign.  The campaign involves the local community with workshops in sustainable landscaping techniques, and includes a Rain Barrel Making Workshop and a grant program. The Rain Barrel Making Workshop is the first one to be held in Region 5 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and will serve as a model for other refuges. The "Slow the Flow" grant program provides impetus and incentive to property owners within the Plum Island Sound watershed to implement organic green landscaping projects in order to improve water quality and quantity in the Plum Island Estuary.  These practices will aid in conserving water, promoting wildlife, supporting habitat, and preventing nutrients and pollution from entering the Plum Island Estuary.  Rain barrels also present a low-cost solution to reduce water bills, decrease storm water runoff, and promote local recycling.


The "Slow the Flow" program is the work of Nancy Pau, Refuge Biologist, and the Rain Barrel Workshop is the work of Melissa Lesh, Biological Science Technician in the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) is part of the Plum Island Estuary, the largest wetland-dominated estuary in New England.  Although the estuary itself is largely protected, land use within the 600 square kilometer watershed is becoming increasingly urban, and residential runoff is now the major source of non-point source pollution to the estuary.  Nitrogen pollution has been shown to degrade shellfish beds, fish, and salt marsh habitats and create coastal dead zones.  This impact is expected to be exacerbated with climate change, as storms increase in frequency and intensity.
In response to these threats, the Refuge initiated a "Slow the Flow" campaign, involving the local community with workshops in sustainable landscape techniques, a grant program, and a Rain Barrel Making Workshop.

The "Slow the Flow" campaign at the Refuge provides great example of ways to make local communities part of the conservation solution.  The goal is to conserve water, reduce invasive plants, promote backyard wildlife habitat, and prevent nutrients and pollution from entering the Plum Island Estuary.  Organic and green land care practices strategically implemented in uplands surrounding the estuary can reduce pollution input, increase water recharge, and increase native plant diversity to increase wildlife buffers.

The Refuge invited Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home; How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants," to speak on native landscaping to inspire the local community to action.  An all-day workshop was held a week later to inform local landowners about the need for green landscaping in Plum Island Estuary and specific projects that can be implemented in their backyards.  The growth spurt continued as community members soon after proposed their strategies for a healthier watershed through projects such as organic lawns, native wildlife gardens, riparian vegetation buffers, porous landscaping, and rain gardens.
Eight grant recipients were selected for 2012. The recipients are "unpaving" their way toward a sustainable property.  They plan to rescue native plant species, remove impervious asphalt, plant wildlife gardens, and shrink their conventional lawns.

Results and Achievements

The Refuge's "Slow the Flow" workshops and grant program sparked a budding movement in the local community.  Over 50 people attended the talk by Doug Tallamy and 24 attended the day-long workshop. The Refuge continues to hear from lecture and workshop attendees on how the talks inspired them to begin green landscaping in their backyard, even those that did not receive grants.
The grant program encourages landowners to make lawn care and landscaping more environmentally friendly.  In 2012, eight grants, ranging from $300 to $2,500, have been awarded to landowners in the Plum Island Estuary watershed.  One grant, for up to $2,500, was awarded for a Low Impact Development project.  Landowners must contribute a 50 percent match.
Grant recipients were very busy in the summer of 2012 implementing their green vision.  Katie Hone of Ipswich, Massachusetts, purchased her property abutting the Ipswich River and discovered that the entire property was covered in black plastic, causing any runoff to flow directly to the river.  With the help of the grant, she has converted her waterfront home into a woodland oasis, dotted with native shade gardens, monarch way stations, and a setting where her two young children can have close encounters with nature.  Louise Brooks Nelson removed her asphalt patio and installed permeable pavers.  The topic of discussion at her backyard barbeques is now focused on how beautiful permeable pavers can be while helping to reduce pollution runoff.  Julia Yoshida and the Town of Newbury have installed native wildlife gardens on Plum Island, just north of the Refuge.  The Newbury Elementary School received funding for a rain garden.  Their Parent Teacher Association has embraced the project, solicited numerous donated services, and plan to use the rain garden as the centerpiece of a larger outdoor classroom to be installed next year.  Bruce Kubik of Ipswich, Massachusetts, is reducing his lawn area, planting natives, and fighting invasive plants on his property abutting salt marsh habitat.
The "Catching the Rain:  A Rain Barrel Making Workshop" led by Melissa Lesh, the Refuge's Biological Science Technician, and captured the interest of the participants, and the workshop provided the information and materials necessary for all participants to lower their water bills, grow healthier plants, and help keep water in the rivers for wildlife.  The participants were encouraged to assemble their very own rain barrel from scratch, using 55 gallon drums obtained from local business and parts available from the local hardware store.
By teaching homeowners how to make their own rain barrels and where to find local sources of 55 gallon drums, the Refuge is not only reducing trash otherwise headed for landfills, but reducing the carbon footprint of purchasing and transporting a ready-made rain barrel. Utilizing what was readily available within the local community brought the conservation initiative full circle.


The Refuge's "Slow the Flow" campaign, which involves the local community in sustainable landscape techniques, and its Rain Barrel Making Workshop, could easily be replicated at other Refuges.
The Refuge has written a rain barrel informational brochure, which provides instructions on how to make a rain barrel and includes a parts list.  The grant program has a request for proposals and an application template which can be implemented at other Refuges. The workshop agenda can be easily adapted to other Refuges.
Happy to have adopted a sustainable living practice in their homes, the attendees left the workshop with a new knowledge of rain barrel benefits and the ease of implementation. The Refuge hopes to host more workshops in the future. Rain barrels present a low-cost solution for high water bills, fluoride laced plants, and low water flows in our rivers.