Streams and

        Water Quality

Natural Stream Processes  

Stream systems drain the land as a key part of the nature’s water cycle.  When it rains, some rainwater evaporates directly back into the atmosphere, some is taken up by vegetation.  Some percolates deep into the ground and replenishes the groundwater supply.  The remainder collects and flows down the watershed through drainage ways, ditches, streams and rivers to lakes and the sea.  There it evaporates and begins to cycle again.

Every stream is a dynamic hydrological system that is continually altered by the changing character of the watershed.  Streams reflect land use by changing course, overflowing, eroding their beds, and depositing sediment.  Modification of a stream channel causes channel adjustments such as bank erosion, channel deepening, or sediment deposition, for some distance both upstream and downstream.  Streams are also dynamic biological systems comprised of plants and animals.  The components of this system are interdependent and are fundamentally linked to habitat in and around the stream.

Information obtained from ODNR Ohio Stream Management Guide

As described above, streams are dynamic systems, which constantly move and change in their pursuit to reach equilibrium.  In their natural state, streams and their associated floodplains provide a variety of important functions including the movement of water and sediment, storage of flood waters, recharge of groundwater, treatment of pollutants, dynamic stability, and habitat diversity.  Disturbances to this system, either natural or human-induced, places stress on the system and has the potential to alter structure and/or impair the ability of the stream to perform ecological functions. 

Headwater Stream Fact Sheet  
Natural Stream Processes

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For more information on streams , contact Gary Norcia, Community Coordinator, by e-mail or phone at (330) 722-9318.



The following information was summarized from the American Rivers website:

How do floods help the stream?

Floods are a natural process which helps maintain the health of the river.  Just as fire is essential in a forest or prairie, flooding is essential to the river ecosystem.  Various plant species are adapted to the flooding conditions; thriving on periods of wet or semi-dry conditions.  Additionally, floods cue many fish species to begin their spawning migrations.

Floods also help to form habitat.  The energy associated with a flood can be very powerful.  Eroding banks and creating side channels and islands.  In doing so, they also create places for animals to live, hide, and feed.

Floods also help plants and animals migrate to new areas downstream.  They can also clear away old vegetation, helping the understory grow.

Why are floodplains important?

Natural stream channels have an associated adjacent land area called a floodplain.  These adjacent areas are periodically inundated by flood waters and serve a variety of functions.

  • temporarily store water 

  • help to dissipate energy

  • filter nutrients

  • allow for infiltration

  • provide important habitat

  • create recreational opportunities

Studies have shown that floodplain size is directly related to the overall health of a stream 

Floodplains absorb and store flood waters, reducing velocity and allow for the slow release to the stream. They also improve water quality, plants within the floodplain filter sediments and pollutants.  Floodplain trees and plants also help to anchor the river banks preventing erosion and providing shade to reduce water temperatures.  Leaves which fall into the water are broken down by aquatic insects and other organisms.  Providing the basis for the river's food chain.  As stated above, floodplains provide fish and wildlife the places they need to feed and reproduce.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been involved in management efforts for many years and has mapped many floodplain areas.  However, unmapped, headwater or intermittent streams have historically not been viewed as areas of importance.  These areas are becoming increasingly more significant as a direct result of their elimination.

As more and more land is developed, floodplain encroachment occurs more frequently, resulting in cumulative impacts to the downstream areas.  Healthy floodplain areas create a vegetated transition zone between rivers and upland habitats, providing shelter, food, and migration corridors for river wildlife.

For More Information on Floodplains:

ODNR Floodplains Main Page


Stream Corridor Restoration and Management  

The stream is part of a larger system called the riparian or stream corridor, which incorporates:

  • the stream channel (water flowing in it at least part of the year)

  • floodplain (highly variable areas on one or both side of the stream channel that is inundated by floodwaters at some interval, from frequent to rare)

  • transitional upland fringe (a portion of the upland on one or both sides of the floodplain that serves as a transitional zone or edge between the floodplain and the surrounding landscape)  

This corridor is a valuable ecosystem providing many functions since the beginning of time.  Recently, more and more people are recognizing the importance of stream corridors.  

Urbanization, more than any other common land use, damages the quality of streams.  With the alteration of the landscape from vegetation to hard surfaces, such as roads and parking lots, the velocity of runoff increases and the filtering capacity decreases.  As a result, this increased runoff causes erosion problems leading to undercut banks, flooding, and loss of habitat.  

Channel size is determined by sediment discharge, sediment particle size, stream flow, and stream slope.  The figure below was proposed by Lane (1995) and shows this relationship. 


Water flowing through a channel, such as a stream, has the ability to do work (i.e. transport sediment).  There are three main modes of sediment transport:  1.  solution load -- dissolved material carried in the flow (in effect invisible), 2.  suspended load -- finer sediment (silts and clays) suspended by turbulence in the flow, and 3.  bed load -- coarser sediment (sand and gravel) that slides, rolls or skips along the stream bed.


A natural stream channel has a definitive dimension, pattern and profile.  David Rosgen developed a classification system which further profiles these stream characteristics.  For more information visit the Wildland Hydrology website.

With and increased awareness of human-induced effects on the natural stream corridor ecosystem, more and more emphasis has been places on the restoration of these critical areas.  Stream corridor restoration can range from very simple to very complex.  An array of practices can be used in restoring natural stream functions.  Some of these practices include vegetative plantings, log jam removal, fencing (to keep animals out), and a variety of bioengineering practices.

For more information on management and restoration practices:

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Water has developed a series of Ohio Stream Management Guide fact sheets. These fact sheets are available for on-line viewing and download as PDF files.

An Introduction to Stream Management
An overview of streams as a water resource and the inter-actions between land uses and stream resources.

Who Owns Ohio's Streams?
Questions and answers regarding the rights and responsibilities of landowners and the authorities and duties of government with regard to surface water.

Natural Stream Processes
An overview of stream ecosystems, processes, and terms.

Permit Checklist for Stream Modification Projects
Overview and contact information for permits, requirements and consultations, which may be necessary for completion of projects in or adjacent to streams.

Restoring Streambanks with Vegetation
Construction guidelines for planting dormant cuttings of willow (or other rapidly-rooting species) to quickly establish living erosion barriers.

Trees for Ditches
Guidelines on species selection, planting locations and maintenance to achieve environmental and economic benefits while maintaining drainage capacity.

A Stream Management Model
A walk-through guide to the stream management display and demonstration at the Ohio Farm Science Reviews Gwynne Conservation Area.

Biotechnical Projects in Ohio
Biotechnical practices using vegetation and other natural materials are defined, and several projects using these techniques are described and mapped. Contacts for on-site visits to some of these sites are listed.

Tree Kickers
Construction guidelines for using hardwood logs anchored to a streambank at an angle to divert stream flow energy away from undercutting the streambank.

Evergreen Revetments
Construction guidelines for creating a buffer system made of cut evergreen trees attached to each other and anchored into an eroding streambank.

Forested Buffer Strips
Benefits of vegetation left or restored along streams.

Live Fascines
Construction guidelines for protecting streambanks with long bundles of live woody vegetation placed in shallow entrenchments parallel to the flow of the stream.

Gabion Revetments
Construction guidelines for protecting submerged streambanks by placing stone-filled wire baskets in shallow entrenchments along the stream.

Riprap Revetments
Construction guidelines for protecting streambanks by layering various size rocks along a sloping bank.

Live Cribwalls
Definition, use, and guidelines for constructing cribwalls to aid in the establishment of willow cuttings on streambanks.

Stream Debris and Obstruction Removal
Questions and answers to assist landowners in maintaining a free flowing stream without logjams.

A description of the procedures and materials necessary to stabilize streambanks by directing the current away from the outside of a stream meander.

Eddy Rocks
Construction guidelines for placing groupings of large rocks in small streams or modified channels to help restore natural stream features and enhance in-stream habitat.

Large Woody Debris in Streams
The benefits of all woody material left in and along the stream.

Gravel Riffles
Construction guidelines for the procedure of placing gravel and cobble-sized stones at intervals in a modified or heavily impacted stream in order to stabilize the substrate.

Additionally, a technical field guide Stream Corridor Restoration:  Principles, Processes and Practices prepared by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service is available on-line.  

There are many benefits to maintaining the natural riparian corridor. Among other things, natural corridors provide a variety of functions including: storing flood waters, filtering pollutants, recharging groundwater, and providing habitat for plants and animals.  If you own property containing or adjacent to a stream, our office recommends establishing a management plan.  

The following information has been established to inform landowners on the importance of protecting and restoring these vital habitats.

Stream Management Brochure  
Common Flooding Myth  
Common Myth about Yard Waste  
Benefits of Riparian Trees
"Life at the Water’s Edge:  A stream reference manual for the homeowner." (contact our office for a copy)

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Stream Stewardship

Just like a shop steward is responsible for managing a facility's tools, materials, and processes, or an airline steward is responsible for the safety and comfort of the passengers, stream stewardship is the idea that each and every one of us is responsible for the sensible use of streams that flow through our landscape.    This shared responsibility includes understanding of how streams work and evolve, potential threats that can affect the health of a stream, and personal actions that can reduce or eliminate those threats.  

Taken from Life at the Water's Edge

Our office assists with the organization of stewardship projects throughout the county, such as stream clean-ups and storm drain stenciling.  Below are a list of informational brochures and websites with further information.  

Adopt Your Watershed
How to Clean-up Our Water
Storm Drain Stenciling Handbook

Watershed Information Network  

How You Can Become a "STREAM STEWARD" Pamphlet

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SOS - Sign Our Streams  

As human beings, we often feel the need to provide names to those things we cherish most: national monuments, a never-fail 7-iron, our first car, and yes…even our streams and rivers.  Did you know there are at least 35 separately named streams and rivers that meander through the county?  To draw attention to these invaluable resources and encourage public stewardship of our waterways, the District has a goal of erecting stream name signs at every point a named waterway intersects with a roadway. 

The District’s SOS project is now well underway, with several stream crossings already sponsored throughout Medina County.  Sponsorship fee is $150 (new reduced price). Two signs that display the stream name, artwork and your name or message, will be erected, one on either side of the stream crossing.  Artwork for the signs was designed by local high school students, and are unique to each named stream.

If you wish to contribute to the efforts aimed at protecting a very special resource, or if you are simply looking for an unusual gift for that person who has everything, consider sponsoring a stream crossing through SOS.  

Sponsorship guideline and form

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Wetlands Conservation  

A wetland is defined as a lowland area saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support hydrophytic (water loving) vegetation.  There are many different types of wetlands such as peat bogs, fens, wet prairies or meadows, marshes, swamps, floodplain forests, and vernal pools.   

Three factors are typically used to classify an area as a wetland.  All wetlands have: 

  • hydrology (the presence of water either above the soil surface or within the soil, near the surface)  

  • hydric soils (soils where oxygen is or was limited by the presence of water for long periods of time)

  • vegetation (plant species that require saturated soils to survive and tolerate prolonged wet soil conditions)

Wetlands provide a variety of functions and values.  One of the greatest economic benefits provided is flood control.  Wetlands store excess water and the thick vegetation slows down floodwaters, reducing downstream flooding.  Wetlands also provide water quality benefits; they filter sediments and nutrients from surface water.  They also provide a variety of products for human use and offer many opportunities for recreation.

There are four basic types of wetlands projects:  restoration, enhancement, creation, and construction.  Restoration involves rehabilitating converted wetlands, enhancement improves a slightly degraded wetland or manages an existing wetland to serve a special function, creation is the establishment of a wetland in a historically upland area, and construction is the building of a wetland to treat nonpoint and point sources of water pollution.

Information Provided by USDA SCS Agriculture Information Bulletin and 
National Audubon Society Ohio Wetlands 

Below is a list of links to information on wetlands construction, recognition, value, and regulations.

Living in Harmony with Wetlands
Ohio EPA Wetlands Information
Ohio Wetland Facts (Small Wetlands)  
US Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District
US Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District 
USEPA Wetland Website
USGS Midwest Wetland Flora
Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Resource Guide  
Wetland Values and Trends 

National Wetlands Research Center

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Water Quality/Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS)  

NPS pollution occurs when rainwater or snow melt carries sediment, organic materials, nutrients, or toxins into rivers, lakes, and streams.  During large storms the runoff to surface water and the rate of infiltration to groundwater increases, and so does the rate of NPS pollutant movement.  Almost any land use can lead to NPS pollution.  The more intensive the land use, the greater the chance of pollution. 

NPS comes from a variety of sources in both urban and rural areas.  Examples of NPS pollution include:  

  • sediment from improperly managed construction sites
  • farmlands and eroding streambanks
  • excess fertilizers and nutrients from croplands
  • nurseries
  • golf courses
  • landfills
  • residential areas
  • acids and salts from mining operations
  • urban runoff and parking lots
  • toxic chemicals from building sites
  • lawns
  • gardens
  • croplands
  • nurseries and orchards
  • bacteria and viruses from domestic sewage
  • livestock waste

NPS affects drinking water supplies, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities such as boating, swimming, fishing, and much more.  It is the major challenge in our battle for cleaner water.  Based on data from the OEPA, NPS pollution affects over 13,700 miles of Ohio’s 29,113 perennial stream miles.  Twenty-nine percent of these perennial streams are classified as impaired as a result of nonpoint source pollution.  NPS pollution is now the number one cause of water quality problems in Ohio.  Hydromodification----the physical alteration of a stream or river----is the chief source of aquatic life use impairment.  

  • NPS pollution is one of the most complex environmental problems facing Ohio, and its impacts are extensive.  Many government agencies are confronting this problem by developing programs aimed to correct and prevent nonpoint source pollution.   However, government alone cannot solve nonpoint source pollution problems.  Pollution clean-up has proven difficult and costly; therefore, pollution prevention makes sense.  Because NPS is caused by people, it is people who need to take an active role in preventing it.  Pollution prevention needs to become an integral part of our routine behavior.  


For more information on NPS visit the following sites:
Lawncare Maintenance
Nonpoint Source Pollution


National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System  

Permits for wastewater have been required through the Clean Water Act since 1972.  The USEPA began to regulate stormwater with the inception of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program.  In 1990, NPDES Phase I was established to regulate Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, Industrial  Storm Water, and Construction Sites disturbing 5 acres or greater.  More recently, NPDES Phase II was established in 1999.  This phase added small municipalities (in urbanized areas as defined by census data) and construction activities disturbing 1 acre or greater to the list of permitted entities.

Under Phase II, permitted entities must develop a Municipal Storm Water Program (MSWP) aimed at reducing the discharge of pollutants and  protecting or improving existing water quality by implementing six minimum control measures.  The six minimum measures are: 

  1. Public Education and Outreach

  2. Public Involvement and Participation

  3. Elimination of Illicit Discharges

  4. Pollution Prevention for Municipal Operations

  5. Construction Site Runoff Control

  6. Post-Construction Storm Water Management.

Phase II Measurable Goals

Check out the following links for more information:

NPDES Phase II Brochure  
Stormwater and Your Community
Ohio EPA Stormwater Program
NPDES Permit Program
USEPA Stormwater Program
Menu of Best Management Practices

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Watershed Planning  
Before we talk about watershed planning, it is important to understand what exactly a watershed is.   A watershed is an area of land from which all water drains to a common location.  The watershed is generally named for the lake or river to which it drains.  For example, Medina County is split by the continental divide in which water flows to one of two locations; either north towards Lake Erie or south towards the Ohio River.   Watersheds come in many shapes and sizes.  Smaller watersheds that feed into the same stream, river, lake or ocean are called sub-watersheds of that larger system.  Although Lake Erie and the Ohio River are large bodies of water, the areas draining to them are considered sub-watersheds of the Atlantic Ocean and The Gulf of Mexico respectively.  

The sub-watersheds of Lake Erie and the Ohio River watersheds in Medina County are designated on the map provided.

"The health of a stream, river, or lake is a reflection of how its watershed is treated."  Water does not recognize political boundaries; therefore, activities of one political entity can cause problems to downstream entities.  As a result, problems should be looked at on a watershed level.  Below are some keys to successful watershed management available from the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC).  

The Watershed Planning Process

Get to Know Your Watershed

  • Determine size, boundaries, soils, terrain and other features
  • Understand the people, interests, and institutions
  • Determine how the watershed is used  

Build Local Partnerships

  • Identify and contact partners/stakeholders
  • Divide work and responsibility
  • Identify and manage conflicts
  • Obtain local funding and other resources

Determine Priorities for Action  

  • Assemble maps and data
  • Identify and document problems
  • Determine goals and objectives
  • Evaluate water quality
  • Assess land use
  • Select critical areas for attention  

Conduct Educational Programs

  • Identify and understand target audience
  • Develop specific messages
  • Combine communication approaches, channels and media

Provide Landowners with Assistance

  • Target technical assistance
  • Provide financial assistance  
  • Build social support and recognition

Ensure Implementation and Follow-up

  • Continue with monitoring and evaluation
  • Provide continued local funding
  • Continue to inform and involve everyone

For more information of watershed planning visit the following sites:

A Guide To Developing Local Watershed Action Plans in Ohio 
Center for Watershed Protection

Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC)
Watershed Information Network