Sign up for Stream Wise!

There is one measure by which Lake Champlain exceeds all the other large lakes in North America –it has the highest ratio of drainage basin to lake surface area. In other words, it has the greatest amount of land draining to the smallest area of water. Every acre of Lake Champlain receives drainage from an average of 17.6 acres of land. (Compare that to the Great Lakes where the range is between 1.5 acres of land for Lake Superior and 4 acres of land for Lake Ontario.) That means that residents of the Lake Champlain watershed have an opportunity to use land stewardship as a means of water protection. There are many approaches to managing land with water quality in mind depending on what kind of land you’re working with, but one surefire land management strategy for healthy waterways is a stream buffer.

Stream buffers are the vegetated land between streams and any kind of human development like roads, buildings, or agricultural fields. Vegetated land is land that is left to grow naturally with little management—in Vermont and upstate New York, this usually means forested but some stream buffers can be native grassland as well. This land acts as a protective sponge to soak up runoff from the adjacent development and prevent pollutants from entering waterways that will carry them to Lake Champlain. Stream buffers also provide important wildlife habitat, as forested land supports a wide diversity of birds and mammals that depend on water, as well as the aquatic life in the stream itself that relies on woody debris from the surrounding woodland. Critical in the era of climate change, healthy stream buffers also help with flood resiliency by keeping water levels in streams lower, slowing the flow, and preventing erosion.

The Lake Champlain Committee (LCC) is a partner in a new program called Stream Wise. Organized by the Lake Champlain Basin Program, Stream Wise is a way for people who live near streams and rivers to be recognized and rewarded for maintaining a healthy stream buffer. The program consists of an assessment where a trained Stream Wise assessor visits your property and helps determine if it meets the criteria to be considered “Stream Wise” and issues awards and recommendations accordingly. It helps landowners learn about what makes a stream buffer effective and how to improve the land around the waterway that runs through or along their property.

You don’t have to have a perfect Stream Buffer to sign up for an assessment—LCC will work with you to find ways for you to improve the area around the stream by providing a personalized report with specific resources to help you become Stream Wise. The program is focused both on ecological design and outreach. As we do more Stream Wise assessments, the program helps to educate more people about the importance of vegetated buffers and how to maintain them. It helps foster a cultural shift towards land management that prioritizes water quality, flood resilience, and biodiversity.

LCC is conducting Stream Wise assessments for the 2023 season through early fall. If you own or rent property near a stream or river we’d love to help you become Stream Wise! Sign up here for a free Stream Wise property assessment and email LCC Education & Outreach Associate Eileen Fitzgerald with any questions.

LCC’s Stream Wise project has been funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) under assistance agreement (LC00A00981-0) to NEIWPCC in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program.