How do we know if a stream is healthy?

-Take a look.  A healthy stream has what we call a riparian zone that is the interface between land and a stream.  The plants in these margins serve many functions from cleaning water to holding soil in place.  If we can work toward keeping the borders of streams protected from mowing, and ensure the plants are the types that benefit streams, we can do a lot to prevent flash floods and keep our streams healthier.

Urban Stream with youtube play button
Click to view the video in YouTube.

Learn more about Riparian Zones at these links:


-What lives there?  Small animals who spend some part or all of their lives in creeks are what we call ‘indicator species’ because they’re easy to observe and differ in their ability to withstand pollution.

Zebra Swallowtail on flowerBenthic (occurring at bottom of stream)

Macro (visible to naked eye)

Invertebrates (lacking a backbone)

Since some benthic macroinvertebrates have high tolerance for pollution and handle it well, if those are most of what we find, we may have a less healthy water body.  A healthy stream will provide a place for wildlife to live.  It will have sounds and sights that confirm it supports an array of life in and around it.

test kit for water chemistry-Chemistry adds to the story.  Citizen Scientists and the professionals who study water test pH, conductivity and measure temperature.  They find out how much oxygen is in the water and send samples of water to labs to test for bacteria and chemicals.  Here in Lexington, you can be one of the citizen scientists helping to collect this information.  Email us if you would like to know how.

To learn more about water science and stream health:

What are some common problems we find?

  • Bank erosion
  • Artificial straightening of stream channel
  • Excessive trash
  • Invasive species (i.e. bush honeysuckle, winter creeper, etc.)
  • Excessive algae in water
  • Shiny or oily appearing water
  • Evidence of yard or pet waste being dumped in water or storm sewer system

Bank Erosion image
Bank Erosion
Straightening of Channel
Straightening of stream channel


Identifying Solutions (BMPs)

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