If you are like me, you have a fascination with streams and creeks.
This fascination may be due to my childhood. There was a stream near our house where kids from the neighborhood spent many summer days playing.
During the hottest part of the day, you were sure to find a few kids cooling off in that stream. Some of the more daring would swing out on the vines hanging from the trees like Tarzan and let go making a big splash into the cool, refreshing water below.
Swimming wasn’t the only thing that attracted us; we also spent many hours trying to catch frogs, tadpoles, crawdads, and other creatures that inhabited the stream.
But streams are more than fond childhood memories; they are a part of our rich natural legacy.
Streams are economically, environmentally and socially valuable and that is why it is important to protect, improve, and preserve them for generations to come.
If you have a stream in your yard, you have a special responsibility. What you do or don’t do on your part of the stream affects you and those who live downstream from you. This responsibility and the opportunities it brings is called stream stewardship.
Stream stewardship is the idea that each of us are responsible for and benefit from the sensible use of streams that flow through our property and make up our watershed.
This shared responsibility includes understanding how streams work and change over time, potential threats that can affect the health of the stream, and personal actions that can reduce or eliminate those threats.
Every stream has three basic components: the water flowing in it; the land beneath and around it; and the plant and animal life the stream supports.
Individuals can own the land that forms the stream channel on their property, however, the water in the stream is considered a “public good” and is owned by the state. This means that property owners can use the water — but not in ways that infringe on the rights of others.
Streams are “dynamic systems,” which means that they are constantly changing over time.
In our area, many of the streams are comprised of alternately spaced deep and shallow areas called pools and riffles. These pools and riffles are important for the water quality of the stream and the type and variety of aquatic life it supports.
Any changes to a stream can affect this delicate balance and the health of the stream.
But exactly what is a healthy stream? A healthy stream is a meandering waterway with open, unobstructed access to floodplains. Ideally, it will have a vegetated buffer zone on the stream banks with a variety of plants and animals living in and near the stream.
When the natural winding path of the stream is eliminated in an attempt to contain the stream in a straight line, the negative effects are significant.
These “channelized” streams increase stream bank erosion, create a greater risk of flooding, and exaggerate the velocity.
A few simple things that can be done to preserve or improve the stream’s health are: Plant trees, shrubs, and deep-rooted grasses on the stream banks; maintain septic systems regularly and properly; do not dump anything into the stream (this includes grass clippings and mulch); remove trash from the stream; do not change the path of the stream; and don’t mow right to the edge of the stream.
When landowners practice good stream stewardship, everyone in the watershed will benefit and this natural legacy will be there for future generations to use and enjoy.
(Jodi Cespedes is an administrative assistant at Stark Soil and Water Conservation District. She has worked at Stark SWCD since 2002.)