By KADY LANE, guest columnist
When we hear the term stream health what conservationists mean is biodiversity — or variety of life — within the stream or creek.
More biodiversity means higher water quality and the more value it has for humans. When streams are stressed, sensitive stream organisms — or macroinvertebrates — die off, and tolerant organisms become overwhelmingly dominant thus decreasing biodiversity.
Stream health is largely dependent on population density and landscape classifications, such as wild, rural, semi-rural, suburban and urban. Additionally, the more impervious surfaces that are near streams the more at-risk stream health becomes.
According to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center “stream health goes beyond reducing pollution, though this is critical. Keeping streams healthy also means protecting banks and channels from erosion. High-energy currents, which can appear during storms or floods, can destroy habitat and create steep, high banks. Impervious surfaces like roads or driveways can intensify currents by keeping soil from absorbing rain water before it rushes into streams. Sometimes, watersheds with only 2% impervious surface can see sensitive insect populations plummet.”
Protecting streams is the responsibility of everyone, we all rely on water.
Fencing livestock from streams is an important way to protect water quality. Livestock access to streams increases erosion, this dislodged soil enters the stream and suffocates the aquatic ecosystem. For example, mayflies, stoneflies and dragonflies in their larval stage all have external gills. The sediment in the water clogs these gills leading to death. As these macroinvertebrates die off there is a decrease in biodiversity. Planting riparian buffers using native plants, limiting forest clearing, and by taking care when using fertilizers and pesticides are all other ways we can help protect streams.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has a great program called Hoosier Riverwatch. This program was started in 1996 and allows citizens to become citizen scientists by providing hands-on training and education.
Following your training you will become qualified to conduct habitat and biological surveys of local streams. For more information visit https://www.in.gov/idem/riverwatch/. Brown County is filled with streams that need monitoring, if you enjoy being outdoors and love water this is a great opportunity to help protect and preserve our waterways.
Kady Lane has worked as an educator for many years, teaching science in grades seven to 12 as well as adult education for Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Her master’s degree is in environmental studies and her undergraduate is in human services and psychology. Lane is currently the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District educator and can be contacted at [email protected]