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A stream, brook, beck, burn or creek, is a body of water with a detectable current,confined within a bed and banks. Stream is also an umbrella term used in the scientific community for all flowing natural waters, regardless of size.

A study of 16 streams in eastern North America shows that riparian deforestation causes channel narrowing, which reduces the total amount of stream habitat and ecosystem per unit channel length and compromises in-stream processing of pollutants.


Wetland Basics | Ponds | Streams | Bogs and Fens
Marshes | Pollution | Wetlands


Wide forest reaches had more macro-invertebrates, total ecosystem processing of organic matter, and nitrogen uptake per unit channel length than contiguous narrow deforested reaches. Stream narrowing nullified any potential advantages of deforestation regarding abundance of fish, quality of dissolved organic matter, and pesticide degradation.

These findings show that forested stream channels have a wider and more natural configuration, which significantly affects the total in-stream amount and activity of the ecosystem, including the processing of pollutants. The results reinforce both current policy of the United States that endorses riparian forest buffers as best management practice and federal and state programs that subsidize riparian reforestation for stream restoration and water quality. Not only do forest buffers prevent nonpoint source pollutants from entering small streams, they also enhance the in-stream processing of both nonpoint and point source pollutants, thereby reducing their impact on downstream rivers and estuaries.

Why should we take care of our streams?

Healthy streams are important to fish and should be treated with care and respect. Streams and lakes provide living, feeding and spawning areas for fish. A good water body for fish has many different characteristics. Although young fish may not have the same needs as spawning fish, all need an adequate flow of clean, cool water.

A good rearing area should have different types of habitat for cover for fish (pools, forest debris, boulders, overhanging trees and brush), few floods and droughts, moderate summer temperatures, few predators, and lots of insects for food. In a good spawning area, adult salmon should be able to reach spawning gravel that has free-flowing water and is free of silt.

Unfortunately, lakes and streams can be easily and often seriously damaged. Sometimes, the damage is caused by carelessness in mining or logging practices, or by poorly-planned city and community growth and the pollution that accompanies it. These factors are mainly beyond your control. But there are stream care guidelines which you can follow to help save and preserve our streams.

What are some stream care guidelines?

Leave natural stream side and lake shore vegetation alone - Trees and shrubs shade the stream, keeping the water temperature cool for fish. Insects fall off the vegetation and into the water, providing food for the fish.

Plant vegetation on the sides of a lake or stream to stabilize its banks - Any plants that have roots that spread and knit the soil help strengthen the banks and prevent them from being washed away during floods. Alder, cottonwood trees and willows provide good root systems for this purpose, and can be planted on the banks.

Do not remove natural debris, such as stumps, fallen trees or boulders, from the stream - Fish use these as part of their habitat, and as cover from predators (which include larger fish, birds, and small animals). Trees should only be removed when they block the passage of fish.

Be careful when clearing land or building near streams - Heavy equipment in the stream can ruin spawning gravel, destroy fish habitat, and damage stream banks.  Vegetation which has been damaged or destroyed by construction should be replaced as soon as possible because fish depend on it for food and shelter. When the cover is stripped from the sides of streams, the water temperature rises because it is no longer shaded. Warm water can cause poor health and disease in fish.

Prevent muddy runoff water from construction sights from entering the stream - Water which is brown with sediment can smother fish eggs which are incubating in the gravel. Without oxygen, which is dissolved in water, the eggs will die. Also, fish food organisms will be buried and then fish may go hungry.

Leave erodible soils (soils that can be washed away) alone during the wet, rainy season - Stream banks can be easily damaged during the rainy season. Every rainfall can soften and wash down stream banks, sending mud and soil into the steam.

Do not catch small fish and move them into another stream or pond, or take them home - It is illegal to catch and move fish to another stream. The fish could spread diseases to the fish in the other stream, or you could reduce the number of fish in the stream so that there would not be enough remaining to continue the species.

Leave the stream alone; don't dig holes or try to redirect the flow of the stream - By digging holes or building dams, you may be destroying a spawning or fish producing area. Fish could become stranded if the stream's flow is changed.

Keep pets and livestock away from streams - Livestock should not be allowed to graze on stream banks because they trample and destroy vegetation or ruin spawning gravel by walking in the stream beds. Dogs should be controlled when they are near streams, they sometimes chase spawning fish, or they stir up the mud in the stream.

Use garden and lawn chemicals sparingly with care. Follow disposal instructions carefully - Do not spray stream side vegetation. Some chemicals (bug and weed killers) are toxic, and harmful to people and fish. Other chemicals (fertilizers) can make algae and weeds grow in streams and lakes, and disturb the fish's food supply.

Remove garbage from the stream area - Litter in the stream can ruin the water, and may be toxic to the fish and wildlife that use it. The beauty of a stream is spoiled by throwing unwanted articles into it.

Direct soap suds, detergents, waste oil, gasoline or other household chemicals onto absorbent ground away from streams, not down storm drains or into roadside ditches - When you wash the wastewater containing these substances down storm drains, it enters the streams untreated and pollutes the water system.