Rules for Healthy Streams
Healthy streams are important for many reasons.
- We depend upon them for our drinking water and use them for recreational pleasures, such as fishing and swimming.
- They are also important as a home for wildlife and aquatic organisms.
- Protecting our rivers and streams thus improves our own lives and the health of our environment.
If you notice, however, many of our urban rivers and streams are not healthy.
- They turn muddy when it rains and turn green when it doesn't.
- Healthy streams should be clear with gravel or rock bottoms, and have abundant logs, sticks, fallen leaves and vegetation.
- Take a look at a stream in your neighborhood.
- It probably has a muddy bottom, few logs, and steep banks.
- It may even lack a forest canopy to protect it from the hot sun.
- This is a problem.
We need to fix our environment.
- The following rules are intended as a guide for improving our rivers and streams.
- As guidelines, the rules presented here may not always be the best thing to do, but they can serve to stimulate action for improved management of your own micro-environment.
1. Prevent Runoff
Overland flow from impervious surfaces (such as rooftops and driveways) is the major cause of nonpoint source pollution.
Complete elimination of stormwater runoff is possible using several methods.
- Route all runoff to infiltration areas.
- Good places for infiltration include garden areas, flower beds, and around trees or shubbery.
- Heavily mulching with at least three inches of wood bark, wood chips, or compost will help improve the soil infiltration rate, allowing faster uptake of water by the soil.
- Another easy way of increasing soil infiltration rates is to add gypsum, which can be obtained from recycled wallboard.
- Gypsum, or calcium sulfate, opens up heavy, clay soils allowing water to pass into and through the soil without ponding above it.
- Create an infiltration topography
- Infiltration areas should be in depressions, or on terraces.
- Try to avoid long-stretches of steep slope.
- Contour the site so that water does not run straight down hill.
- Place obstructions to flow (such as logs, berms) along the hillslope to slow and pond the water
- Use permeable pavements.
- There are new types of asphalt and paving materials that are permeable.
- These surfaces let the water infiltrate and soak into the ground.
- Permeable pavements are not as suitable for heavy traffic areas, like highways, but are great for driveways and parking areas.
- These areas should be integrated into all new parking areas, where the heavily used traffic areas are made of conventional paving materials, while the perimeter areas and lightly used areas are made of permeable pavements.
- Route all road runoff away from streams.
- How often do you see a street drain that takes runoff straight to a river?
- This is the worst imaginable nightmare for a stream.
- Not only does the stormwater cause erosion in the stream channel, it also carries toxic chemicals that threaten aquatic species.
- This stormwater must be routed to infiltration areas (such as retention basins, cloverleaf intersections, etc.) where the water can infiltrate into the soil.
- Minimize impervious surfaces.
- Because runoff primarily results from impervious surfaces (roads, parking areas, rooftops), minimization of these surfaces helps to increase infiltration and prevent harmful flows to streams.
- Building a two-story house minimizes rooftop exposure as opposed to a single-story house.
- A parking structure decreases the impervious surface for each level added.
- Better yet, a parking structure with a park on top could eliminate runoff.
- Never put waste materials down a stormwater sewer drain.
- Stormwater drains go straight to a stream.
- Dumping wastes into a stormwater drain will contaminate surface water.
- If you need to discharge wastes, make sure that it goes to a sanitary sewer, not a stormwater sewer.
- Never use water to wash down pavement.
- Use a broom or blower when your outdoor pavement is dirty.
- The water you waste in washing down the pavement causes two problems, in diverts water that should be in a stream, plus it contaminates streams if it runs back into it.
- Shade all pavement.
- Because pavement gets hot when exposed to direct sunshine, shading helps protect water in several ways.
- Shaded pavement stays cooler, so nearby plants don't burn from the heat as readily.
- Also, the vegetation helps intercept rainfall, slowing it down so that it does not runoff as fast.
- Most important, however, is that the runoff from hot pavement can increase stream temperatures, literally cooking any life in streams.
2. Never Use Water Outside During a Drought.
Rivers and streams fall to very low levels during a drought, causing problems to aquatic ecosystems.
Some of the water loss is natural, but a large part is due to cities pumping water from the river for human use.
Indoor water usually goes down a drain and is returned back to the river.
Outdoor water use, however, never gets returned and is lost.
Here are ways to eliminate or reduce all outside water use.
- Plant drought-tolerant vegetation
- Avoid using grasses in lawns that require regular irrigation.
- Centipede grass does not require watering, and bounces right back after the first rain.
- Mulch your soils.
- Mulching does two things, it helps increase infiltration rates and it reduces water loss by evaporation from the soil.
- Use at least three inches of mulch.
- Never drain or fill a swimming pool during a drought.
- One swimming pool contains a tremendous volume of water (enough water for hundreds of people to use in a day), and filling your pool during the middle of summer is a big problem for everyone.
- Leave your pool lower during a drought to reduce spillage over the edges.
- Don't backwash your pool as often.
- Route all pool backflow (cleaning) water to the sewer line.
- Swimming pools filters need to be cleaned occasionally, and this water should always go down a sanitary sewer drain.
- Never drain pool backwash water into a stream or storm drain.
- Besides saving this water, this is important because the water has high levels of chlorine in it that is toxic to fish and other organisms that live in a stream.
- Route all outdoor water uses to a sanitary sewer drain.
- It is common for home car washes, pet cleanings, etc. to take place on the driveway where the water runs off into a street or stream.
- Some pet cleaning shampoos contain highly toxic compounds that kill every living creature in a stream.
- The use of these flea-killers can sterilize streams for miles.
- It is important that you never allow any of this water to get anywhere close to a stream, and it should be routed down your sanitary sewer to prevent contamination to yourself and your environment.
3. Never Waste Water Indoors
Even though the water used indoors is returned to the river, the wasting of indoor water causes problems because it can overburden the water distribution system in town, making it difficult to supply water to people who need it.
Some activities that should be avoided include:
- Never use water to cool air-conditioning units.
- The University of Georgia uses water instead of air to cool some of their air-conditioning coils.
- Large quantities of water are used only once, and the hot water is just dumped down the drain.
- Avoid using water during the peak water use times of the day.
- The morning, late-afternoon, and early-evening are heavy water use periods.
- The water pressure drops during heavy-use periods.
- Try taking a shower in the middle of the night and you will notice how the water blasts out of the showerhead.
- Shift some of your water uses to the off-peak period.
- Schedule laundry and dishwasher uses to high-pressure, off-peak hours.
- Use low-flow appliances
- Use low-flow shower heads, faucets, toilets, washing machines and dishwashers.
- These not only save water, but also electricity and natural gas that would be needed to heat that wasted hot water.
- Maintain your septic system
- Indoor water that goes into a sanitary sewer is treated at regional water treatment facility.
- Homes on septic systems have to rely on their septic tanks and leach fields.
- These systems require routine annual maintenance.
- Failure to maintain your septic system leads to failures which end up polluting our ground water, rivers, and streams with sewage.
- Get into the habit of having your septic system inspected and maintained on a regular basis.
- Areas not served by sanitary sewer systems should use oxidation septic systems
- Homes and businesses that can not route their wastewater to a regional wastewater facility treatment normally use private septic systems to dispose of their wastes.
- Conventional septic leach fields are not as effective at treating such wastes as advanced oxidative systems, and ground water often suffers as a result.
- Ground water that has been overloaded with septic wastes has no oxygen in it, causing difficulties not only with area streams, but also with drinking water wells.
4. Protect Stream Corridors
Rivers and streams do not end at their bank.
The stream channel is linked to its surroundings by its floodplain and riparian zone.
Streams need to flood and meander.
They need trees to shade them and roots to hold their banks in place.
The stream corridor should be protected to a distance at least one tree-height wide on either side of the stream, so that trees can fall and help supply important woody debris.
Here are some practices that help keep a stream healthy.
- Don't channelize streams.
- Never straighten a stream.
- Meanders (bends) in a stream are important for slowing water velocities.
- Slow water velocities prevent erosion and downstream flooding.
- Do not clear a stream channel, riparian zone or floodplain.
- Never remove logs, rocks, roots, or plants from within or near a stream.
- These help hold the stream channel in place.
- They also provide habitat for aquatic organisms.
- The woody debris (like trees and branches) slow water and trap sediments.
- Never alter, build in, nor fill a flood plain or riparian zone
- Sediments and nutrients are filtered from the river in flood plains and riparian zones.
- Flood plains are important areas for storing flood waters during heavy rains.
- Filling in a flood plain, or building a structure in the flood plain (even bridges) causes the flood plain to be less efficient.
- Always read the label of any chemical product you use.
- Never apply fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, or rodenticides in a flood plain or riparian zone.
- Never apply these products where they may flow into a stream, such as on or near streets, driveways, and sidewalks.
- Application of chemicals in these areas can be readily transported to streams, thus threatening aquatic organisms.
- Provide habitat for beaver
- Beaver were a common sight in the landscape before Europeans arrived.
- Beaver ponds provide important habitat and filter water.
- Beaver ponds trap sediments, remove nutrients, increase low flows, and decrease high flows.
- Like deer and turkey, beaver are making a comeback.
- While beavers are considered to be a nuisance by many, their beneficial effects on water quality more than compensates for any trouble they cause.