Sunday, 28 February 2016 02:53

Trees Save Streams

Written by  Beverly M. Payton

Join the Stroud Water Research Center to plant trees and help save our local streams.


Photo by Todd TriceHannah invited Lamonte Garber, watershed restoration coordinator at Stroud Water Research Center, to share the view she enjoys from the kitchen window on her farm. Garber saw a long grassy field, studded with a few fruit trees. A plank bridge spanned a narrow stream bisecting the property. Several hundred feet beyond that, a tiny Amish schoolhouse was a dot on the landscape.

Garber had just explained to Hannah and her husband, Jacob, that planting a forest buffer on both sides of the stream would protect the water from contaminants from their farm. Doing that, and following other best land management practices, would qualify their farm for a variety of state, federal and private grants aimed at compensating landowners for watershed protection services.

“Every morning, when I wash the breakfast dishes, I watch my children walk to school from this window,” said Hannah. “If we plant that forest, my children would disappear into the woods a few steps from the back porch.”

Persuading landowners to install a forest buffer along both sides of a stream can be a hard sell. But Garber is well aware of the strong scientific evidence supporting wide forest buffers, so he doesn’t give up easily. In fact, in 2015 Stroud Center’s watershed restoration team planted 7,000 trees in Chester County alone.


Trees Protect Our Streams

The benefits of steam-side forest buffers have been well documented. In 2014, Stroud Center Director Bernard Sweeney and colleague Denis Newbold added to the scientific support with a paper published in the Journal of Freshwater Science. They concluded that a 100-foot-wide forest buffer on both sides of a stream was the optimal width for protecting the water.

“Healthy forests are our streams’ life support system,” Sweeney says. “Trees filter contaminants before they reach the water, stabilize the stream bed, and provide food, shade and habitat for fish and wildlife.”

To spread the word, Matt Ehrhart, Stroud Center’s director of watershed restoration, says his team works hard to help farmers understand the grants they may qualify for and which best practices are most important for them. The funding each landowner qualifies for depends on the property’s location, the farmer’s income and the restoration work that needs to be done.

“Chester County has an incredibly diverse agricultural landscape. A dairy farmer in Honey Brook will need different practices than, say, a landowner in southern Chester County raising half-million-dollar race horses. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this,” says Ehrhart.

Garber adds that working successfully with farmers requires listening to their concerns and respecting their point of view. For example, the watershed team planted shrubs instead of trees on the section of stream that included Hannah’s kitchen-window view to the schoolhouse. This creative solution helped Hannah and Jacob agree to have a forest buffer planted along the rest of the stream on their farm.


Work for Clean Water

Stroud Center has several volunteer and citizen science water monitoring projects open to those who want to improve our water quality. To volunteer for the next tree planting party—and it’s enough fun to be called a party—call Rebecca Duczkowski, 610-268-2153, ext. 296. And to learn more about grant programs for landowners implementing best land management practices, contact Lamonte Garber, 610-268-2153, ext. 310.


Stroud Water Research Center, based in Avondale, advances global freshwater research, environmental education and watershed restoration. The nonprofit organization helps everyone make informed decisions that affect water quality and availability around the world. More at

Photos by Stroud Wat er Research Center

Chester County’s Healthy Streams

A stream’s health is largely determined by its proximity to more densely populated areas and areas with heavy agricultural land use.

“Chester County’s best overall watershed is probably French Creek, which starts up in the state park and drains a rural community that doesn’t have intensive agriculture,” says John Jackson, Stroud Center’s head of entomology. “There are a number of smaller streams in the county in good condition, but they join streams that are generally more degraded.” Jackson knows these streams’ health because his team samples and evaluates the diversity and density of aquatic insects that live in the water.

Andrew Reif, a water quality biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey office in Exton, says the USGS has been studying Chester County streams since the early 1970s. The healthiest reaches of streams include French Creek, Pigeon Creek, Buck Run and the east branch of Brandywine Creek.

The unhealthiest streams include the east branch of Chester Creek, the west branch of Red Clay Creek, the west branch of Brandywine Creek and Big Elk Creek.

“When the sampling began, some of the streams were nearly dead with very little living in them,” says Reif. But the Clean Water Act of 1972 stopped direct discharges from industrial plants, banned many pesticides, and ended raw sewage discharges. “From the ‘70s through the ‘80s, streams were considerably improved,” he says.

 Yet fewer improvements in water quality were observed during the past two decades. “The big changes have already been made. Now changes are required over a whole watershed, and they’re harder to implement,” says Reif.