Stream Restoration - a first step.
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What is meant by the term “Stream Restoration”?

Stream restoration projects cannot be expected to fully return our streams to a pristine pre – colonial condition. Rather, the purpose is to return the stability and ecological functionality to the stream and its watershed. Given the permanent changes to the local watersheds - climate change, land use change, historic agriculture practices, upstream development, and impervious infrastructure - stream bed and bank erosion is occurring at an unsustainable rate. The result: an incised channel where the stream can no longer release its energy by temporarily inundating the floodplain. We have all seen deep cuts caused by the fast-flowing water in both our feeder (headwater) streams and in the Western Run. 

Why is Stream Restoration important? 

A stream that is connected to its floodplain (the periodic inundation by flood waters to the land adjacent to the stream) dissipates energy from high flow storm events by spreading the increased water and sediment, thereby reducing the potential for channel erosion and damage. A healthy stream releases energy to its floodplain and deposits its water-borne sediments and nutrients. The floodplain can be compared to our kidneys in their functioning for a healthy stream. 

Typical causes of floodplain disconnection are channel down-cutting/incision, channel straightening and flow accelerations, deposition/aggradation on the floodplain, and/or physical barriers on the floodplain. The force of the stream, especially during intense storm flows, can cut an ever deeper channel, making it susceptible to stream bank collapse. Loss of floodplain connectivity leads to stream channel instability, loss of aquatic and riparian habitat, and frequently, degraded water quality. 

What Government initiatives fund stream restoration and why? 

There are several government-based initiatives that finance stream restoration. Most of these funds were developed in response to the EPA’s 2010 Total Maximum Daily Load (TDML) for the Chesapeake Bay. The TDML is a historic and comprehensive “pollution diet” to restore clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and the region’s streams, creeks, and rivers by 2025. Below are a few spotlighted programs: 

  1. County Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP) Each County has a WIP roadmap for how the County, in partnership with the Federal and local governments, will achieve the Chesapeake Bay TMDL allocation. County agencies have funded stream restoration projects to reach the sediment and reduction goals set forth in their individualized WIP. 

  2. Maryland Department of Natural ResourcesThe Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund is a competitive grant process which encourages geographic targeting, clustering of projects, and strategies to maximize results throughout connected or related local watersheds. Each year this fund awards millions of dollars towards projects that improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region, including stream restoration. 

  3. Municipal Separate Storm System Permit (MS4) Instigated by the Clean Water Act through a federal program, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) issues MS4 permits to specific Counties with the aim to reduce and eliminate pollution resulting from rainfall run off. Others funding partners include private foundations, grantmakers, and government agricultural programs at the state and federal level. Sourcing funding for restoration work requires thoughtful and informed consideration of the various programs to match the right program to a specific project. 

 

What are the biggest issues affecting the streams in the LPT/Rural Legacy area?

Climate change, a fundamental and universal threat, brings the potential for ever-increasing storm impact. The effects of climate change influence channel stability, channel erosion, and loss of terrestrial habitat. For example, the widespread loss of cold water habitats will force a dramatic change in the distribution of aquatic species. Many scientific studies have suggested that stream and riparian corridor restoration efforts can improve water quality and help to restore healthy aquatic life. Other threats to stream health include development and land-use changes. While in the countryside we may be surrounded by farms, the dramatic growth of impervious surfaces in the developing areas surrounding us, combined with changes in land use, has resulted in habitat fragmentation. A once connected system, now cleaved by development, roads, and even agriculture, leaves isolated pockets of fragile habitat. Stream restoration is a piece of the puzzle to help restore a connected place for nature.

Would there be limitations on my land or stream if it were to be “restored”?

The short answer is no. Federal, state, and local regulations are in place to help protect streams. These regulations remain the same whether a stream is restored or not. Consequently, restoration does not increase a landowner’s obligations or restrict land use any more than is currently provided by law.

For example, under Maryland’s nutrient management regulations, farmers with livestock are encouraged (but not required) to “exclude” the animals from streams – which can mean fencing. Under these regulations, “stream crossings” that meet the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) best management practice specifications are permissible to allow livestock and farm equipment to traverse streams, where needed. If a landowner needs to enable livestock to cross a stream to reach another pasture, the restoration plan can include provisions for crossing in sufficient numbers and locations to ensure agricultural activity is not compromised. 

My land is conserved through the LPT and the MET. Would there be an additional and beneficial easement if the stream were restored? 

This is project-specific and is typically determined by the funding source. If funding is provided by an agent that is a stakeholder in the success of the project (i.e. County and State programs, and/or related permits), a conservation easement may be negotiated for the restoration project area. Additionally, stream restoration can be tied into forest buffer projects. This creates a collaborative restoration approach by helping the landowners to not only protect open space, but also do their part to restore a connected landscape. 

What is the process by which I might evaluate whether to pursue a stream restoration? 

There are numerous assessment tools restoration contractors use to evaluate if stream restoration work is recommended. These include the stream evolution model, stream classification systems, and an ecological valuation tool. Once a landowner agrees to support a project, they could decide to self- finance with the help of an ecological restoration consulting firm to carry the project from beginning to end. If partnership seems a better approach, in addition to a partnering with an ecological restoration consulting firm to help manage the project, the landowner can partner with an environmentally-minded non-profit or local public agency and a funding agent, such as the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund. These projects are often referred to as public-private partnership (P3) restorations. 

Would I, as the landowner, have any say in the project?

Absolutely. Open and frequent communication between all partners is essential. The landowner and ecological restoration consultant have a shared responsibility to ensure project expectations are clearly established and met, project constraints are addressed, and project timelines or delays are understood. In the case of the P3 scenario, the landowner’s interests and ability to provide input should be expressly addressed in the project agreements.

With thanks to Jim Morris of Watershed Environmental for answering my questions.

Please look at our website…. for a more in-depth discussion. 

Best,

Vicky Collins

Questions:

Jim Morris - Watershed Environmental LLC – jim@wtshed.com 

Ann Jones – Easements, LPT - annjones@thelandpreservationtrust.org