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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Are you Stream Wise?

Rivers and streams need robust, native forest buffers to remain healthy and resilient. (Provided photo)

Looking for ways to contribute to making your backyard stream as healthy and resilient as possible? There’s a new program that can help you do that.

Stream Wise was launched this summer in the Lake Champlain basin of New York, Vermont, and Quebec. Sponsored by the Lake Champlain Basin Program, Stream Wise provides resources to protect and restore stream health for basin landowners with property adjacent to streams and rivers. The Ausable River Association is the host organization for New York in 2022 — the program’s pilot year.

Healthy and resilient streams protect against floods, provide good quality drinking water, offer recreational opportunities, and create habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife. While there are many aspects that contribute to the health of streams, the Stream Wise program focuses on a stream’s need for a streamside buffer of trees and shrubs.

As part of the Stream Wise pilot, AsRA’s staff will work with selected private landowners, assessing their property and helping them to learn about and apply stream health best practices. The Stream Wise toolkit guides a professional assessment of streamside properties and sets standards for recognizing landowners who maintain robust, native forest buffers along their section of the stream. For those properties that do not meet these standards, AsRA and other host organizations in Vermont and Quebec will work with landowners to identify the steps needed to become Stream Wise certified. This program strives to encourage landowners to become stream stewards that help to protect and restore healthy waterways across the Lake Champlain region.

Wide buffers of native trees and shrubs with strong root systems stabilize streambanks, absorb flood waters, prevent soil erosion during flood events, and allow a river to freely flow and meander into its surrounding floodplains and wetlands. Stream Wise awards properties that meet certain criteria that define a high quality streamside buffer. These criteria include the width of the buffer (50 feet minimum), the composition (native vs. nonnative) and diversity of buffer vegetation, the presence of impervious or pervious developed surfaces, and overland runoff on the property. While some properties will meet Stream Wise standards right away, other landowners may need to adjust the management of their property to achieve certification. AsRA and other Stream Wise partner groups will provide the advice and oversight needed to meet that goal.

In the Ausable River watershed, our communities are built around the river. For hundreds of years, we have relied on the river as a source of drinking water, for industry, recreation, and our local economy. We have also caused damaged to the system we rely on. We have denied it access to its floodplain, cut down its streamside buffers, built structures that constrict it, and added pollutants. In turn, we have caused damage to our communities. A river without access to its floodplain or riparian buffer can flood and cause damage to human infrastructure. We have all seen it happen. By replanting streamside buffers and restoring floodplains, Stream Wise is another critical step in bringing neighbors and communities together to protect our fresh water, our infrastructure, and the streams we love.

Becoming Stream Wise helps the river, many species of fish and wildlife, your neighbor, and your community. Stream Wise and the Ausable River Association hope to create communities of stream stewards within the Lake Champlain Basin. Are you Stream Wise? If you are a streamside landowner or land manager and want to see if you meet Stream Wise standards, reach out to the Ausable River Association for a free assessment. Please email contactus@ausableriver.org for more information.

(Liz Metzger is a research associate at the Ausable River Association.)