Streams Connect Us
Still glides the stream, and shall
forever glide; the forms remains; the function never dies.
Wordsworth, The River Duddon, 1820
You may not live on the
Chesapeake Bay, but chances are there is some stream, creek or
river close to where you live. So what does that mean? Plenty.
We all live in a watershed---basically, the land drained by a
waterway, like the Chesapeake Bay. A watershed also includes all
the streams, creeks and rivers that flow into this waterway.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is 64,000 square miles. It includes
parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia,
West Virginia and the District of Columbia. There are more than
100,000 miles of streams and creeks in the watershed. Virtually
everyone in the watershed lives within a half-mile of a stream
or creek that eventually flows into the Bay.
Like capillaries bringing blood and nutrients to vital organs
in a body, streams are the lifeblood of a watershed. Streams flow
over and through the landscape, carrying water, detritus (decaying
organic matter), fish and other aquatic organisms and, in some
cases, pollutants downstream to larger bodies of water.
Streams shape our landscape. Flowing water transforms land features,
transporting and depositing soil from one place to another. Deposited
onto a floodplain, these mineral-rich soils often become highly
prized as farmland.
A source of freshwater for our reservoirs, thousands of small
creeks and tiny streams feed the five major rivers within the
Chesapeake Bay watershed: the Susquehanna, Potomac, Rappahannock,
York and James. These rivers provide almost 90 percent of the
Many wildlife species depend on these tiny waterways. Streams
provide spawning and breeding habitat for small fish and other
wildlife like aquatic insects, turtles, frogs, toads and salamanders.
The fields, woodlands and wetlands alongside a stream, known as
riparian habitats, provide food, water, shelter and shade for
amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Streams are good for the soul. Often a small stream will be the
first "natural" place a child investigates. I still remember the
tiny stream I explored almost daily as a kid. Although it was
in the middle of suburbia, to me it was wild and full of adventures.
Today I am still lured by small woodland streams. The sound of
trickling water as it flows over small rocks and winds through
the landscapepis soothing. Streams offer us a refuge from the
stress that has become a part of our everyday lives. Streams connect
Nationally, freshwater rivers and streams have been seriously
damaged by our activities on the land. Sediment from runoff and
in-stream erosion are the primary sources of non-point source
pollution in the our nation's waterways.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed reflects this national picture. Fifty
percent of stream miles lack sufficient buffers and many, if not
most, of our streams have been altered by 300 years of agriculture
and development. In order to ensure that our rivers and, ultimately,
the Chesapeake Bay are healthy and able to support fish and wildlife,
we must have healthy streams.
We tend to put imaginary boundaries around everything, but it
is extremely hard to disconnect a small waterway from its downstream
destination. The fluidity of water makes this virtually impossible.
We can learn a lot from this connectivity. If we realize that
every tiny watershed is merely an appendage of a bigger watershed,
we soon become connected not only to our immediate surroundings
but the entire ecosystem as well. In this context, streams can
be either the first point of destruction or the first line of
protection for our environment.
Here's what you can do to protect streams and the Chesapeake Bay:
· Get to know your local waterway whether it is stream, creek
or river; get involved with local watershed associations.
· Treat the land and water as one. Remember that what you do on
the land also affects the local waterway. Reduce your use of fertilizers,
pesticides and herbicides. If you must use these products, carefully
follow all directions.
· Conserve water. In some households, as much as 40 percent of
the water used each month finds its way into the landscape. Wasted
water runs off the land carrying nutrients, sediment and traces
of toxic products into local streams. Reducing indoor water use
means less treated water is released by sewage treatment plants
or through a septic system.
· If your property includes a stream, creek or river, plant native
plants as vegetative buffers along the waterway to reduce erosion,
intercept pollutants and provide important streamside habitat
Contact wildlife or natural resource specialists for information
about using native plants and creating wildlife habitats.
10 years as a biologist, Kathy Reshetiloff now writes on
a variety of topics for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
U.S. Department of the Interior.