Saving Small Streams

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABabbling brooks are delightful.   Small streams also make up the bulk of river systems.  In other words, rivers join together myriad tributaries to move rain and snowmelt from the land down to the seas.

It’s likely several streams are within a mile or two of your home.  Many go unnoticed as people quickly drive on roads that run beside and over nearby waterways.  But small streams offer enticing places to see stream life that is vital to the quality of our environment.

Healthy streams have winding channels and brushy banks that filter the water. Natural streams form riffle and pool habitats for fish and other stream life. Canopies of streamside trees provide habitats for birds and mammals, keep water temperatures cool for fish, and prevent soil erosion.

In urban and suburban places where most people live, stormwater is the crucial threat to healthy streams.  As more homes and businesses add runoff, the severity of flooding increases, stream beds erode, water quality declines and aquatic life vanishes. Other signs of damage are thick deposits of sand, cloudy water, excess algae and low stream flows during dry months of the year.  Streams also carry the polluted runoff into lakes, spurring rampant weeds and toxic algae blooms that spoil swimming, boating and other recreation uses.

There are many simple low-cost ways to keep polluted runoff from harming streams.  Examples are streamside vegetation buffers, rain gardens, infiltrating bioswales and sediment basins.

To learn more about small stream ecology, see the excellent paper by the Stroud Water Research Center at   For guidance on how to fix stormwater problems that harm urban and suburban streams, a free Stream Care Guide can be downloaded from the MWC website at .


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