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Lake County, Ohio - Soil & Water Conservation District

Headwater Streams

    Headwater Streams

        Headwater streams are the smaller tributaries that carry water from the upper reaches of the watershed to the main channel of the river. They are rarely named and are often so small that it takes little effort to jump across them. Historically, they have been given little attention by researchers, policy makers, and landowners. We now realize that these small streams are ultimately in control of the biological and chemical quality of the larger rivers as well as its susceptibility to damaging floods. These headwater streams affect almost every aspect of our lives, and yet they are so easily manipulated or buried and forgotten. Do you need a cheap and reliable source of drinking water? Do you want to catch a 30” steelhead in the Grand River? Do you want to develop and sell beautiful homes with scenic views of the river? Do you irrigate your nursery stock from flowing streams? Do you want to protect your riverside property from excessive flooding and erosion? From living essentials to recreation to practical, our lives are centered on water. The quality of the water in Lake Erie can only be as good as the water that enters it via rivers. The quality of the water in our rivers can only be as good as the water entering it via our headwaters. The quality of the water in our headwaters depends on how we manage those resources. It has been proven that headwater streams retain floodwater, store nutrients, and reduce sediment. These functions are lost when streams are straightened or buried in culverts when they do not fit into our urban landscape. These functions then need to be replaced or the effects remedied, usually resulting in more costly drinking water filtration, flood prevention, culvert cleaning, increased irrigation costs and treatment of irrigation water. The costs involved in providing these services and practices are staggering, and largely avoidable with proper stream stewardship.