Streambed Degradation

What Is a Watershed?

Everyone lives in a watershed. A watershed is the land that water flows across or under on its way to a stream, river, or lake.

All water runs to the lowest point. On its way, water travels over the surface across fields, forestland, lawns, and roads. It also seeps into the soil and travels as ground water.

A farm pond, and the land which surrounds and drains into it, is a small example of a watershed. The Spring Creek watershed drains over 117,000 acres into Spring Creek.

What Is an Ecosystem?

An ecosystem is the balance of nature, developed over thousands of years, made up of a community of animals, plants, and bacteria interrelated with climate and geography.

Ecosystems include such things as food chains and natural resistance.

Concerns About the Spring Creek Watershed and Its Ecosystem

Sediment and gravel runs off cleared land into Spring Creek.

The Spring Creek Watershed is predominantly steep, rocky, and wooded. The topsoil is thin, and the subsurface is porous. Rainfall runs off over and under the land, carrying with it everything that is not “nailed down,” especially the soil.

As our watershed loses its forest and good pasture cover, and the amount of pavement increases, less of the rainfall soaks in, and more runs off - and runs off faster. Spring Creek is getting wider to accommodate the increased storm runoff. At the same time, a tremendous amount of sediment and gravel is being deposited into the creek, making the bed shallower. As the creek widens, it causes more undercutting of the banks, thus causing more erosion and sediment filling, in a vicious cycle. Sedimentation destroys the natural “riffle and pool“ pattern. As the rocky bottom of Spring Creek fills with fine sediment, the aquatic insects and fish - from minnows to game fish - lose their habitats and food sources.

Two Main Causes of Streambed Degradation

Timber Harvesting and Land Clearing

Timber in the watershed is harvested and cleared for pasture and construction. It takes 25 years for one native Red Oak to reach 10 inches in diameter. Many of the best trees are being taken out with the idea that the smaller ones will grow. This is like selling the top end of your cowherd and keeping the culls. Reproduction is left to those of lesser quality.

Timber provides food and shelter for wildlife. Along with other vegetation, it stabilizes the topsoil, slows runoff and retains moisture by keeping the land cool and shaded. One acre of Riparian forest is capable of filtering 7,000 gallons of water each day.

Removing Trees and Brush from Banks

Removing trees and brush can result in bank erosion.

Current studies on Spring Creek indicate that a main problem is deterioration of the creek banks.

Trees/brush and their roots are very beneficial. They hold the banks together, provide food and cover for game and fish, and cool the water with shade. Trees and brush filter sediment and pollutants from water running off the land during storms. Grasses alone do not provide all of these benefits.

Removing trees and brush from around creeks results in bank erosion. When this happens, creeks fill with fine sand and gravel. They become more shallow, wider, and warmer. This accounts for the lack of deep pools and pool-dwelling game fish that many long-term residents of Spring Creek recall. As the creek widens, pastures. forest lands and roadbeds are lost to washouts.

Living next to the creek, it’s natural to want to embrace it. If we aren’t careful, we will spoil what we came to the creek to enjoy. So, when thinking about “cleaning up the creek banks“, please consider the fish, wildlife, and your downstream neighbors. Leave a wide border of trees and brush at least fifty feet from each bank. Build pathways to the water instead of wide clearings.