Protect Streams Around Your Home

2:59 PM, Aug 3, 2012   |    comments
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Protect Streams Around Your Home

If you are fortunate enough to have a small stream in your backyard, you are on the front lines of watershed protection.  Even if that stream is dry for part of the year, it is still an important conduit of clean water - if you take steps to keep it that way.

 All rivers start out as a collection of many smaller streams or tributaries and the combined water quality of these streams determines the water quality of a river.  This network of small tributaries is called the headwaters.

When we talk about water in Northeast Ohio, the conversation is usually about the big rivers: Grand, Cuyahoga, Muskingum, or about larger drainage areas such as the Lake Erie or the Ohio River watersheds.   This makes sense because these large water features shape our communities and our climate.  However, the water quality in Lake Erie and the Ohio River, and in the larger rivers, is primarily determined by the water quality in the small headwater streams that run through our neighborhoods.  Just as a person's health depends on a healthy capillary system, the health of larger streams and rivers depends on the water quality in small streams.

Small headwater streams are impacted by the amount of water that reaches them after a summer storm or spring snowmelt.  You can slow down this water and protect the stream from erosion by catching runoff in your landscape.  A rain barrel attached to your downspout will hold water for use around the house.  You can also create a rain garden designed to catch runoff and allow it to soak into the soil. 

A corridor of trees, shrubs, or un-mown grasses along the stream bank, called a buffer strip, will slow down runoff, and absorb lawn chemicals or loose soil that the rain picks up.  The plant roots stabilize the stream's banks and slow down erosion.

 A ten foot-wide buffer strip is enough to protect very small streams, but wider buffer strips are better.  This buffer should not be mowed, and it can be improved by the addition of water-loving, deep-rooted plants such as red-osier dogwood or buttonbush.  Native plants placed on the stream banks and in the flood plain provide valuable food, habitat, and nesting sites for many species of wildlife.  Yard waste, including leaves and grass clippings, shouldn't be dumped along a stream, because it prevents plants from growing, and creates a nutrient problem in the water.

Many homeowners are tempted to reinforce stream banks with materials such as landscaping blocks, stone, bags of concrete, or other debris, which are unsightly and usually increase erosion problems.  These materials merely lay on the surface of a stream bank, and do not protect the bank from being washed out behind them.  This can create local erosion problems and increase sediment problems downstream.

While the larger rivers, and the Lake Erie and the Ohio River watersheds get all of the attention, the truth is that much of the water in them came from a small headwater stream in someone's back yard.  A healthy headwater stream will contribute clean, cool, oxygen-rich water to its watershed.  Nearly every person living in Northeast Ohio has a primary headwater stream within a short distance of their home.  Due to their small size, and how close they are to human activities, these streams are easily impaired.  Water quality in headwater streams is key to the overall condition of any river system.

Be a Conservation Crusader and take on the responsibility and stewardship for keeping our backyard streams cool and clear.  For more information on what you can do to protect these streams, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District


Small Streams and Wetlands Benefit Water Quality in Your Community Because They:

Protect Water Quality - Filter, process, store, and modify pollutants, such as chemical fertilizers, fall leaves, and automotive fluids.

Maintain Water Supplies  - Recharge groundwater, which maintains stream flow and habitat. 

Provide Natural Flood Control  - Absorb rainwater, runoff and snowmelt. When man-made structures are substituted for rough-bottomed stream channels, floods increase in frequency and size.  

Trap Excess Sediment - Trap and retain natural amounts of sediment, reducing the volume transported to downstream ecosystems. This reduces the costs of drinking water treatment and dredging of navigation channels. 

Sustain Downstream Ecosystems - Nutrient recycling happens in small streams and wetlands.  If all organic material received by headwater streams went downstream, the decomposing material would kill fish and other aquatic life.  

Maintain Biological Diversity - Research shows that healthy headwater systems are critical to healthy functioning of larger streams, rivers, and lakes downstream. It is impossible to protect water quality in Lake Erie or the Ohio River system without careful protection of headwater stream systems.


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