Do you think you have the best buffer in your neighborhood? Is your stream nice and shady? Stream Wise AWARDS and RECOGNIZES private landowners that maintain wide buffers of native plants along the sections of the rivers and streams that they own to foster stream health and resiliency throughout the Lake Champlain basin, in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
If you own streamside property, ask about our FREE property assessment and awards program. Do you want to help protect and improve the streams and rivers in your community? Reach out to be connected to local volunteer opportunities with Stream Wise.
Do you live in the Lake Champlain basin?
Find out with our interactive map.
8 Steps for Streams
There are many steps you can take to protect and restore the native vegetation and natural processes of land near rivers and streams. These steps to support healthy streams and build community resilience can range from stopping a harmful practice, to doing nothing and letting nature heal with ecological succession; or actively stabilizing soil, planting native species, and other practices to restore natural structures and functions of a riparian ecosystem.
1) Widen your vegetated buffer
The wider the natural vegetation along a stream or river, the better for water and wildlife. Ways you can do this are to stop mowing and let vegetation grow, plant native species, and mark off the area or fence plantings to protect from disturbance.
2) Do not disturb buffer vegetation
Natural vegetation near rivers and streams, including dead plant material, provides numerous benefits to water, wildlife, and flood resilience. Let your native buffer grow wild, especially within 15’ of your stream, but ideally within 50’ or more – no mowing, weed whacking, raking, or removing woody debris. Leave the ‘duff’ – leaves, twigs, and other organic matter on the ground – it soaks up water, prevents erosion of soil, and build soil organic matter to support nutrient cycling and plant health.
3) Plant diverse multi-layered native vegetation
Plant trees, replacement trees/saplings, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials (flowers, grasses, ferns) to mimic natural plant communities and maximize diverse rooting systems and habitat niches. Prioritize regionally native plants – check out native plant resources and nearby undisturbed streamside plant communities for inspiration. Select local nurseries that grow natives themselves and are pesticide-free.
4) Remove or contain invasive plants
Invasive plant species outcompete native species, create a monoculture that does not stabilize streambanks as well, and do not support wildlife. See info on individual invasive species for best removal tactics. The ‘island’ removal method is shown here, focusing removal efforts on the most dense areas, and then working outwards.
5) Maintain your view and timber resources and protect vegetation
If necessary, practice selective cutting within the buffer, but no closer than 15’ to your stream.
Instead of cutting entire trees for a view, limb up and cut the bottom 1/3 of branches to open up view windows and frame your beautiful view! Timber harvest only in dense stands of forest. Do not remove anything below 3’ to protect streambank stability and prevent land loss.
6) Minimize and plan for pathways
Stream access is important to enjoy the beauty and benefits, but wise access is even more important! Prevent erosion and gullies created by straight pathways down a slope – make pathways run across contour (e.g., switch-back paths), divert water runoff with water bars, and make pathway material pervious.
7) Capture and soak water runoff
Direct water runoff from lawns, decks, patios, pathways, and other impervious or semi-impervious areas in the buffer to vegetated areas that can slow water down, hold it, and allow it to soak in slowly, thereby filtering water and preventing erosion and pollution from entering your stream! Green infrastructure practices such as vegetated swales, infiltration trenches, and rain gardens can be used to treat water runoff and protect our vital water re-sources.
8) Convert channelized runoff to dispersed sheet flows
All water runoff reaching the vegetated buffer should be dissipated into sheet flow and not concentrated to protect the buffer from erosion and maximize its efficacy. Meadow filter strips, vegetated swales, rain gardens, dry wells, infiltration trenches and basins, level spreaders, and other green infrastructure practices can be used to achieve this.
A stream like this…
The stream pictured suffers from a narrow buffer and lack of vegetation along the edges. The following image is a simulation showing a roughly 50’ re-naturalized riparian buffer of multi-tiered diverse native vegetation. Though some of the field is taken out of agricultural production, the land is protected from further erosion, sloughing of the bank, and the resulting loss of valuable land.
…is healthier like this.
More About Stream Wise
Our property assessment and evaluation is evidence-based and aligns with riparian buffer programs, regulations, and guidelines for Vermont, New York, and Quebec.
We partner with watershed organizations, conservation districts, and water quality groups to inform and recognize private landowners that maintain wide buffers of native plants along the sections of the rivers and streams that they own. Stream Wise is fostering stream health and resiliency throughout the Lake Champlain basin, in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
We provide the tools, connections, messaging and resources needed for our partners to work directly with their local stream communities. Our Stream Wise partners conduct outreach, perform site assessments, provide targeted recommendations, technical assistance, and award our Stream Wise Award for Best Management Practices in a Vegetated Stream Buffer.
Advisory Committee: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Organisme de basin versant de la baie Missiquoi, Adirondack Park Agency, Lake Placid Land Conservancy
Community Partners: Lake Champlain Sea Grant, Watersheds United Vermont, Vermont River Conservancy, Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resource Conservation District, Friends of the Winooski River, Champlain Watershed Improvement Coalition, Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board, Lake George Association, Ausable River Association
Stream Wise is a project of Lake Champlain Basin Program and NEIWPCC