Stream Wise

Stream Wise Assessment Tools

Stream Wise Assessment Tools

Resources available for our Community Partnersin the Lake Champlain basin include our assessment protocol, dynamic atlas and field reporting app, plus tools and tips for communicating the Stream Wise mission.


Local Outreach

Property Assessment

Certification & Award

Next Steps & Technical Assistance

Follow-Up & Reassessment


Assessment Protocol and Evaluation Criteria

The Stream Wise Assessment Protocol for properties on streams and rivers is based on research conducted on riparian buffer programs, regulations, and guidelines for Vermont, New York, and Quebec under a grant sponsored by the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Desktop Assessment Atlas

Use the Stream Wise Atlas to complete the Desktop Assessment portion of the Stream Wise assessment prior to going into the field. Enter data from the Atlas in your Survey123 app.

Survey123 App

Stream Wise uses Survey123 to record data. Contact LCBP for login information.

Get the app on iTunes App Store and Google Play.

Report Template

Use the Stream Wise Report Template to summarize your site assessment for the property owner.

2024 materials coming soon. Check back for updates.

Field Form

Property assessment form

Desktop Form

Property assessment form

Feedback Form

For 2024 Stream Wise Community Partners: Submit questions, feedback, challenges, and any other ideas for improving Stream Wise.


Intro to Stream Wise Webinar
Branding and Communications Webinar
Desktop Assessment Webinar

Full training video for VT, NY, and QC Assessors

Desktop Assessment for VT

VT assessors: Please watch this video for Vermont instructions.

Desktop Assessment for NY

NY Assessors: Please watch this video for New York instructions.

Desktop Assessment for QC

QC Assessors: Please watch this video for Quebec instructions.

Media Kit

Award Sign

Sites that are awarded the Stream Wise sign represent model, stream-friendly properties.

Messaging & BMPs

Use this guide to help introduce Stream Wise, communicate impact and develop engagement.

Style Guide

This guide provides design standards and recommendations to maintain Stream Wise branding.

Social Media Kit

This kit helps Stream Wise and its host organizations manage branded social media accounts.


Download official Stream Wise logos to use in your communications.

Graphics & Print Materials

Download official Stream Wise graphics to use in your communications.


Download approved photos to use in your Stream Wise communications.

Issues & Solutions

Buffer Width

Stop Mowing and Adopt a ‘No Mow’ Zone, Prevent Invasive plant species.

  • The simplest way to establish a Riparian Buffer is to stop mowing and/or remove development from the buffer to allow vegetation to grow. If this is the method used to re-vegetate a riparian buffer, invasive species must be managed and not allowed to take over. Areas that have been disturbed (e.g., compacted soils, areas with fill, lawns treated with herbicides, eroded soils) and areas that have significant invasive species presence nearby are high risk for invasive species takeover. Invasive prevention and removal may be necessary, including planting native species to out-compete and removal of invasives.
  • Vermont’s Lake Wise Program has guidance for Establishing No-Mow Zones.
  • New York DEC provides an excellent guide to Managing Invasive Plants in Riparian Areas.
  • Quebec provides resources under the Pelouse Durable (Sustainable Lawn) program site.
  • The Alliance for Chesapeake Bay also provides an in-depth Citizen’s Guide to the Control of Invasive Plants in Wetland and Riparian Areas including special consideration for riparian areas and control techniques.

Plant diverse vegetation.

  • Planting a native buffer will require selecting a variety of plant species adapted to the site (soils, sun/shade, wind, climate/hardiness, natural plant communities nearby, etc.), including trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials, sourcing the plants in container, balled & burlap (B&B), tube stock/tree pot, bare root, or live stake form, and planting them in a way that minimizes erosion, covers bare soil, and maximizes water retainment.
  • The ideal time to plant is spring (April-June) or fall (September-October). Woody shrubs and trees can be planted when the ground is not frozen. Herbaceous perennials can be planted when leaves are on the trees (spring bud out – leaves falling).
  • Watering is an important part of planting to ensure the greatest survival, plan on watering 1-3 times/week during dry spells for the first growing season, and 1 time/1-2 weeks during dry spells for the 2nd and 3rd growing season, as needed.
  • Vermont’s Lake Wise Program provides guidance on planting native buffers Planting & Maintaining Vegetation Areas.
  • Winooski NRCD’s Vermont Trees for Streams Resource Guide provides an in-depth overview of restoring riparian buffers, including terminology and planning goals, site analysis considerations, plant material types, planting, and maintenance.
  • Missisquoi Bay Watershed Organization/Organisme de Bassin Versant de la Baie Missisquoi (OBVBM) provides a comprehensive visual guide for restoring and planting streambanks, available in both French as Guide de mise en valeur riveraine and English as Shoreline Management Guide.
  • Vermont DEC provides planting specifications, plant sources, and technical assistance resources in the Planting Guidance for the Revegetation of Riparian Areas in Vermont.
  • Information on planting natural plant communities and selecting native plant species can be found from VT DEC Lake Wise Program info sheet Planting & Re-Naturalizing Areas.
  • The Federation of Vermont Lakes & Ponds provides a A Guide to Healthy Lakes Using Lakeshore Landscaping, including site planning, prepping, and planting information with design templates, sample planting plans, and a plant list.
  • Lists of native plant species can be found in Vermont Lake Wise’s Native Plant List, Lake George DIY Water Quality Native Plant Species Index, and the The Vermont Rain Garden Manual.
  • Riparian natural plant communities can be found in VT Fish & Wildlife’s Wetland, Woodland, Wildland book.



  • Permeable Pavers (or other Permeable Surface): VT Guide to Stormwater for Homeowners (p. 33). A variety of materials can be used to make an impervious surface permeable (or pervious). Ideal for sites with well drained soils. For decks within buffer, ensuring that underlying soils are uncompacted and well-drained can be sufficient to minimize runoff.
  • Vermont’s Lake Wise Program also has guidance for Pervious Pavement
  • Vegetated Swale & Infiltration Trench. VT Guide to Stormwater for Homeowners (p. 27 & p. 21). Features can be located at edge of patio where runoff collected (if patio is sloped). Swales can be used in soils that don’t infiltrate well to slow and spread runoff. Infiltration trenches are for sites with well drained soils.
  • Vermont’s Lake Wise Program also has guidance for Infiltration Trenches.
  • Rain Garden: VT Guide to Stormwater for Homeowners (p. 29) and Vermont Rain Garden Manual. Similar to Vegetated Swales and Infiltration Trenches, Rain Gardens can be used at the edge of patios (or decks) to either slow and spread runoff or infiltrate it.
  • Filter Berm: VT Guide to Stormwater for Homeowners (p. 25). For sloping sites with somewhat constrained space and poorly drained soils, filter berms can capture runoff and slow it before allowing it to drain through the filter berms porous soils.
  • As of January, 2021, Vermont’s Lake Wise Program is developing guidance for a Vegetated Berm.

Lawns or Other Landscaping

  • Vehicle Access must of minimal width (maximum 12’ or 4m) and pervious if possible (permeable surfaces could include pervious pavers or porous concrete/asphalt). If not possible, concentrated flows should be minimized.
  • Water Bars: See below under Access Pathway for reference.
  • The VT Guide to Stormwater Management for Homeowners has a two-page section on Strategies for Rural Driveways (p. 41-42) which outlines additional strategies including spacing for ditch relief culverts for managing uphill flows to driveways, flow diffusers to culvert or water bar outlets, and a simplified guide to driveway shaping and surface stabilization techniques.
  • For additional options and practices see the Vermont Better Roads Manual and the New York Rural Roads Active Management Program manual (these manuals have considerable overlap) for more detailed design of water bars, driveway shaping and stabilization, turnout, ditch stabilization, and culvert design.
  • MRC Brome-Mississquoi also offers the Technical Guide – Environmental Management of Ditches to improve runoff from vehicle access paths.
  • Access paths must be of minimal width (maximum 6’ or 2m) and pervious (aerated grass, uncompacted gravel, crushed stone, or pervious pavers or similar). A few single track foot paths are okay, but limit access to one main pathway and vehicle access where possible. For steeper Access Paths that create concentrated flow to a stream or river, see below for strategies.
  • Vermont’s Lake Wise Program has guidance for Planning Pathways, a resource which outlines general steps to take for pathway creation or improvement.
  • Water Bars: VT Guide to Stormwater Management for Homeowners (p. 23). Water bars serve to interrupt long stretches of concentrated flow using angled humps in the pathway with outlets on the downhill side. Outlets must be stable (using a small rain garden or simply a small hole can be sufficient).
  • Vermont’s Lake Wise Program has guidance on Water Bars as well as Open Top Culverts and Rock Aprons which are used in the same way.
  • See also the Turnout Guidance from Lake Wise for ideas on managing runoff near Access Paths and stabilizing outlets of waterbars or open top culverts
  • Infiltration Stairs: VT Guide to Stormwater Management for Homeowners (p. 31). If access is provided by stairs, using stairs constructed of wooden retaining timbers with uncompacted gravel or stone between them can eliminate runoff from concrete stairs. If stairs are wooden, ensure that there are gaps in board to allow rain to pass through and that soil underneath stairs is uncompacted and allows runoff to infiltrate.
  • Vermont’s Lake Wise Program has guidance on Infiltration Steps.

Buffer Zone

  • See the Width section for strategies for controlling concentrated flow from development.
  • In certain cases, there may be existing drainage features (ditches, swales), designed to eliminate upland runoff to development that are routed directly to a stream or river. Outlets to the stream or river should be eliminated and flows from the feature should be dispersed prior to entering the riparian buffer using the appropriate technique from the Width section strategies.
  • Similar to the above issue, upland areas may be causing erosion over the stream or river bank. Evaluate if this is the case and implement one of the previously mentioned solutions.
  • Use Quebec’s Shoreline Management Guide (Guide de mise en valeur riveraine, p. 33-35) for guidance on installing new rip rap if unavoidable or planting vegetation in existing rip-rap (see also p. 65 for specific guidance for planting in stone rip rap).
  • See also the Vermont Lake Wise Program guidance for Resloping, Rock Toe and Rip Rap for additional information.
  • The Vermont Shoreline Stabilization Handbook has a additional detailed guidance on practices to be used in existing or proposed rip rap situations under the Biotechnical Section (p. 31) with instructions for vegetated rip rap and gabion walls and mattresses, and vegetated cribbing or live cribbing.
  • Use Quebec’s Shoreline Management Guide (Guide de mise en valeur riveraine, p. 36-38) for guidance on developing a vertical ‘shorewall’ or other retaining wall.
  • Additionally the Vermont Shoreline Stabilization Handbook Biotechnical Section (p. 31) provides additional guidance on how to integrate vegetation in retaining walls.

Buffer Vegetation

  • Determine the tiers of vegetation that are not present and possible reasons for not being present, e.g., a mature Hemlock forest may not have any – or very few – shrubs and herbaceous groundcovers, which is a functioning forest ecosystem and can still be given the Stream Wise Award. However, if there is no shrub or herbaceous groundcover layer because the homeowner has been weed whacking and mowing in the buffer, then they must stop all disturbance and allow the shrub and herbaceous layer to return to be able to be awarded the Stream Wise Award. Remediation practice for specific tiers is as follows:

There is no canopy or tall, mature trees:

  • Plant trees in bare root, tube stock/tree pot, container, or ball and burlap form, protect them from deer grazing by putting a wire fence around them if deer are prevalent, and water them regularly until established.
  • Select trees that will be well-adapted to the climate, soils (clay, sand, silt, loam, compacted, moisture levels), hardy to wind/ice/snow disturbances, potential flooding conditions (dependent on site), and amount of sun available.

There are no replacement sapling trees:

  • Plant seeds of existing trees (e.g., acorns from Oaks, samaras from Maples, cones from Speckled Alder, pits from Black Cherries, cones from Hemlocks, etc.).
  • Plant saplings of native trees existing in the buffer or nearby, or trees that would be well-adapted to the site.
  • Stop removing vegetation on the forest floor and allow saplings to grow.

There are no shrubs:

  • Plant native shrubs adapted to the site.
  • Stop removing brush from understory, do not cut anything below 3’ (1m).

There are no herbaceous perennials or groundcovers / bare soil:

  • Allow duff layer to build up.
  • Aerate bare/compacted soils by poking holes with rake or scouring with rake and adding erosion control matting, leaves, or mulch.
  • Seed with native forest mix.

There is no duff layer / bare soil:

  • Do not remove leaves or mow.
  • Do not remove dead wood, plant material, and other debris.
  • Add leaves from lawn, wood chips, mulch, or erosion control matting to start the build-up of duff.
  • See ‘Plant diverse vegetation’ under teh Buffer Width issues and solutions section for technical resource guidance.

Resource Library

In order to develop a regionally responsive Stream Wise Award Program that encourages private property owners to adopt and promote stream buffering protection and restoration practices on their property a resource library was developed to enhance the understanding of the resources related to stream buffering or other riparian protection practices.

Literature Review

This is not meant as an exhaustive academic literature review of all possible stream buffering or riparian restoration practices, but rather a foundation to serve as the basis for Program Outline development as a reference point for existing regulations, programs, and practices potentially available to incorporate in Stream Wise. Stream Wise Program development will avoid overlap, communicate existing resources, and fill the gaps needed to support riparian landowners to be good stewards of streams and rivers.

Advisory Committee: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Adirondack Park Agency, Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program

2024 Stream Wise Assessors include staff from: Ausable River Association, Franklin County Natural Resource Conservation District, Franklin Watershed Committee, Friends of the Mad River, Friends of Northern Lake Champlain, Friends of the Winooski River Inc., Grand Isle Natural Resources Conservation District, Greensboro Association, Lake Champlain Committee, Lamoille County Conservation District, Missisquoi River Basin Association, Organisme de basin versant de la baie Missiquoi, and Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute.

Stream Wise is a project of the Lake Champlain Basin Program and NEIWPCC.