Planting Signs in Your Natural Landscape Part Two–River-Friendly Resident Certification, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association


The first of my landscape signs to arrive was the wonderful River-Friendly sign pictured above.  This certification recognizes actions taken both outside, in the landscape, and inside, by using less water for everyday activities, while looking through the lens of water quality and quantity with a side of healthy wildlife habitat.  The program is voluntary (no one is forcing you) and free!  Although there is a somewhat similar education and outreach program without certification in California, this program is currently specific to New Jersey (although with a few Pennsylvania participants).  The River-Friendly program has a new website at with technical assistance resources including in-person training sessions starting early 2017; these are especially valuable to those of us on this journey towards making our yard look like something other than a desert with nothing for the critters to eat and nowhere for them to hide or live.  The program has also just won the New Jersey Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the Water Category.

The River-Friendly program, begun in the late 1990s, involves a partnership of two non-profits and a state agency, all with an interest in keeping our water bodies clean for not only humans, but for plants and animals.  Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association (SBMWA) is a non-profit that was started in 1949 as the first environmental organization in Central New Jersey.  As the only one of the three organizations with a staff member, Brittany Musolino, dedicated specifically to the program, the SBMWA will take the lead, working with its state agency partner New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA) and its non-profit partner Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA).  The certification program has a separate track each for golf courses, businesses, schools and residents (homes).  Businesses and golf courses are required to provide documentation beyond what is required of residents, and “usually create narratives with attached maps, monitoring sheets, etc.”  Schools can start with a basic registration, and work on achieving graduated levels of certification, reflecting more and more River-Friendly elements.

A sister program, administered by North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development (NJRC&D), supported by a large partnership of its own, offers River-Friendly certification status to farmers.

In answer to the question “What does River-Friendly mean to us?”, the website provides details and support in four main areas, each with their own specific goals:

  • Water Quality Management: Manage stormwater on property to reduce polluted runoff.
  • Water Conservation: Decrease indoor and outdoor potable water usage.
  • Wildlife Habitat Enhancement: Enhance property features to support beneficial native species.
  • Education & Outreach: Share information and encourage environmental stewardship.

Here are some sample actions required for Resident certification (some edited for brevity):

  • My gutters are directed away from paved areas and onto vegetation or into a rain barrel.
  • I planted groundcovers or other vegetation or used mulch to cover exposed soil areas.
  • I dispose of household chemicals properly (the SBMWA questionnaire also includes proper disposal of prescription drugs, with the Project Medicine Drop program, available at local police departments 24/7).
  • I never water my lawn, I water early in the day or I water according to a soil moisture sensor.
  • I converted a portion of my lawn to garden or natural vegetation using native species.
  • I have a compost pile and use compost as a soil amendment

The program will kick off the new year with a series of supporting workshops to help residents, either certified or not yet certified, to achieve more River-Friendly land stewardship.  The initial series will include sessions on rain garden design, composting and soil health, rainwater harvesting, and adding native plants to your landscape.  You can sign up at; scroll to the bottom of the page for registration.  I will be doing the two composting workshops, so I hope to see some of you there.

I was pleased that I was able to achieve certification under this program, but it has made me realize how much farther I will need to go to give nature more than a foothold in my yard.  I hope you will find this as valuable as I did.



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