Trees are the work horses of the environment. They anchor soil, clean our air and protect our water. They also sequester carbon, a greenhouse gas linked to global climate change. In urban areas, trees are being utilized more and more for storm water control, instead of installing expensive infrastructure and control techniques.
It is estimated that trees can filter as much as 90% of the stormwater pollutants from both agricultural and urban settings. Planting a riparian buffer, which is simply a strip of native trees and shrubs, next to a waterway, is one of the most effective and least expensive ways to protect water quality.
Virginia has also recently updated its stormwater regulations, addressing the need to keep stormwater on construction sites and allowing it to slowly soak into the ground. As anyone who has watched the Hawksbill Creek during high water events can attest, the power of moving water is tremendous. Stream banks which lack the stabilization of trees and shrubs erode, carrying large amounts of sediment downstream.
We are fortunate in Page County to have the steep slopes of our headwaters protected by the heavily forested Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest.
The shade provided by riparian buffers reduces the amount of direct sunlight that increases summer water temperatures. Cooler water temperatures are very important to the survival of the Virginia native brook trout that are currently only found in forested mountain streams, but which used to be plentiful in Hawksbill Creek and other local streams.
The more we can do to help keep our trees and forests healthy, the better water quality we will have.
The Virginia Department of Forestry slogan is very appropriate: More Green Trees = More Clean Water
This is an article in a series addressing water issues and was written by Chris Anderson, member of the Page County Water Quality Advisory Committee.