But when waterways are degraded by man-made alterations, from over-manicured lawns to concrete barriers, the babble of healthy streams is heard less often.
What does a Healthy Stream Look Like?
A healthy stream’s flow is unrestricted by artificial structures. It runs deep and cold in some places and shallow and noisily in others. Aquatic and streamside wildlife, including fish and birds, abound. A crucial component of a healthy stream is a wide strip of native grasses, shrubs and trees along the waterway known as a “riparian buffer.”
The traditional management practice of mowing along the stream banks to the edge of the stream creates a manicured aesthetic, but produces many environmental problems.
Why is Over-Mowing an Issue?
With no roots to stabilize stream banks, and no vegetation to slow and absorb runoff, every storm causes more erosion. The resulting sedimentation then covers the stream bottom and smothers aquatic habitat. The lack of vegetation also means no shade to cool and protect the water quality and no food and habitat for birds and other wildlife.
What are the Benefits of Stream Restoration?
When riparian buffers are restored along stream corridors, run-off of pollution from excess fertilizers and pesticides is reduced, resulting in a cleaner water supply. Intact buffers also reduce flood frequency, severity and associated property damage.
For fish and wildlife, the effects are equally dramatic. Vegetated stream banks provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, small mammals and other wildlife. As erosion decreases, the stream narrows and water flows faster. This restores the critical stream-bottom spawning habitat once smothered by sediment. Summer shade from streamside trees and shrubs keeps the water cool enough to support cold water fish like trout, and fallen leaves feed the aquatic insects that fish eat. As trees and shrubs age and die, they create food and habitat for a variety of birds, and refuge for fish, amphibians and reptiles.