Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Watershed Groups

Streamside Workshop Highlights Diverse Conservation Efforts
By Tom Redfern, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator

On the morning of October 25, students, educators, and landowners gathered on the banks of Federal Creek for a workshop on the environmental importance of streamside buffers. Hosted by Rural Action, the workshop was led by Jerry Iles of OSU Extension and included presentations from Neal Dix of Shade Winery, and Mary Ann Westerdorf of the Amesville Sewer System.

The Federal Valley Watershed Group (FVWG), in conjunction with Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture, organized the tour – which was funded through a grant from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund. The streamside buffers showcased on Saturday are vegetative strips along the banks of streams and rivers. They help to improve stream corridors by naturally filtering pollutants, preventing erosion, and helping to maintain cool water temperature for wildlife.

According to the speakers at the workshop these buffers are quickly becoming a rare commodity. A healthy streamside buffer should be a little more than twice as wide as the stream it surrounds. However, in areas of Ohio buffers have been threatened in recent years by modern agriculture and real estate development.

Iles was the first to speak and spoke at length about the many benefits of maintaining a healthy stream corridor, including flood control and the potential for improving aquatic and terrestrial wildlife habitats. He also spoke about the problems associated with sedimentation, which is the number one pollutant of Ohio water systems.

Immediately following Iles presentation, Kaabe Shaw, coordinator for the Sunday Creek Watershed Group (SCWG), demonstrated testing methods to determine the quality of the water in Federal Creek. He was quick to point out that while the lack of streamside buffers may not directly affect the Ph levels in streams like Federal Creek, that absence can still have a severe impact on the ecosystem as a whole.

Neal Dix of Shade Winery also talked to the group, arguing for the cultivation of native elderberry as a strategy for maintaining a healthy streamside buffer. Dix grows elderberry for wine production and, according to him, it is an excellent example of a native plant that can be cultivated for both commercial and environmental gain.

At the end of the morning, Mary Ann Westendorf, who serves as the Amesville sewer operator, gave a tour of the new decentralized sewer system in Amesville. According to Westendorf, a decentralized sewer system is a low-cost model developed for smaller communities with homes relying primarily on individual septic systems.

A decentralized system allows smaller numbers of households to inexpensively hook their systems up to a central line. It is unique to the area, and the first system of its kind to be permitted by the EPA. Westendorf noted that since the system became operational last summer the water quality of Federal Creek and its tributaries has greatly improved.

Iles ended the workshop by urging the small crowd to do their part in maintaining buffer zones at regional streams – whether they were landowners who could let their riparian land grow wild, or students who could advocate for the cause publicly.

This streamside buffer tour was organized following this summer’s public meetings, when Rural Action presented assessments from the Army Corps of Engineers on the status of watersheds in Appalachian Ohio. During those meetings, streamside buffers were consistently sited as a prevalent concern from both the public and the Corps.

For more information on streamside buffers or the FVWG, contact Tom Redfern (740.767.4938) or email him (tomr@ruralaction.org).

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