Believing In Streams

By Richard E. Wehnes | June 2, 1997
From Missouri Conservationist: Jun 1997

In 1989, the Conservation Department began a program called Streams for the Future. We wanted to involve all kinds of people, from the person on the street and the landowner on the farm to the agency person in a government building, in stream stewardship.

We wanted these people to make a real difference in improving stream habitats - to cultivate and build on the positive feelings they had about streams, and in some cases, to change the negative, destructive mindsets some had regarding streams. We wanted to inform and involve.

We hoped to give people reasons for believing streams were important and provide them ways of turning that belief into action. The program was to be voluntary and long term.

Getting Citizens Involved

Getting citizens interested in better streams was easy. Many already had an appreciation for the importance of Missouri's streams. The problem was that people had an insatiable appetite for stream information. We produced more brochures, videos, displays and other information than ever before.

Working with the St. Louis Zoo, we produced a stream interactive video, and visitors became a bass or floated a Missouri stream via computer at Conservation Department nature centers. We even pioneered the development of education models such as the stream table. It shows how streams work, and it was one of the more popular displays at public events.

But people wanted something more, to become involved and to help. Working with the Conservation Federation of Missouri, the Conservation Department cosponsored the Stream Team program. People responded by forming or joining a Stream Team. Stream Teams adopt a stream and choose their own ways to improve it.

Citizens made the Stream Team program successful beyond our wildest dreams. Starting modestly, the program grew steadily, especially when we and our sister agency, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, included volunteer water quality monitoring as a Stream Team activity.

We have about 950 Stream Teams, 100 more than the number we thought we'd have by the year 2000. Since 1989, you and your fellow Stream Teamers have picked up litter, monitored water quality in over 2,500 miles of stream, inscribed storm drains with water quality messages, planted trees, held stream fairs, brought stream information into Missouri classrooms, installed fish habitat structures, argued against stream destruction projects planned by local governments, encouraged greenway parks and prodded newspapers, radio stations and TV reporters to cover all these pro-stream activities.

What does the future hold? People have shown an eagerness to chip in and help Missouri streams through the Stream Teams. Our task will be to keep teams interested and active, but mostly our job will be to try and keep up with gung-ho participants.

Getting Landowners Involved

We knew landowners were important. Since 93 percent of the land where streams flow is in private ownership, landowners had to be a part of the program. We provided landowners with information and inducement to install stream improvement projects on lands they control.

We produced 12 brochures providing information on how to deal with common stream problems; held 39 landowner workshops, training approximately 1,000 landowners on streams and how to deal with their problems; and we provided technical advice to over 2,200 landowners.

The Conservation Department also began in 1991 to determine how to provide inducements for landowners to install stream improvements. We tried a variety of ways: cost sharing, loaning specialized equipment, easements and cooperatively installing stream projects. Dallas and Phelps county landowners installed 10 projects through a cost sharing program. We also loaned equipment for 11 projects and worked with 42 landowners spread out across the state on Landowner Cooperator Projects. And 16 landowners in Vernon and Marion counties helped us on stream stewardship projects.

The Conservation Department was glad that landowners responded to this first-ever program, but our goal was information on what landowners look for in an incentive program, not a number of projects. When the pilot period ended, we promised that participants would have a chance to share their opinions on the incentive program.

The Conservation Department conducted a large landowner survey in 1996 to find out how the pilot incentive program went and to solicit opinions for the future. Some of the respondents told us:

  • They consider a lot of streamside land in good shape.
  • Those who cooperated in the first pilot effort were generally satisfied (92 percent) with the services provided.
  • Respondents said a cooperative effort involving local agricultural agencies was absolutely necessary, and thought it helpful to target efforts toward groups of landowners, especially along watershed boundaries.
  • The planting of stream side trees is a complex issue. Most landowners see the value of trees and recognize their benefits, but there's a limit to how many trees they are willing to plant along streamside farmland.
  • Respondents were emphatic that incentives should be compatible with their agricultural operation and have some economic benefit for them.
  • Cooperators said that one-on-one contacts were the preferred way to receive help and advice.
  • Most who responded (71 percent) were involved in livestock production.
  • Owners want to maintain control of their land.

And the future of landowner stream stewardship? Landowners will continue to ask for information so they can take care of their own problems. The Conservation Department will continue to provide technical information. A new incentive program has already been announced that builds on what was learned in the pilot program:

  • Stream/Watershed Restoration Projects - Interested landowners in watersheds can band together and work cooperatively with local agricultural agencies and Conservation Department personnel to improve streams using a variety of cost sharing incentives, including riparian set asides, livestock exclusion, stream bank erosion control techniques and fish habitat improvement devices.
  • Alternative Watering Sources for Planned Grazing Systems - Livestock producers using intensive grazing systems and currently using streams for watering can receive cost sharing for installing mechanical or solar watering devices or pond construction or renovation, if they fence their livestock out of the stream.
  • Stream Stewardship Agreements (SSA) - Landowners bid and receive payments for 10 years if they manage streamside lands under a management plan. The Conservation Department retains a perpetual easement after the tenth year, but the landowner is allowed to use the land as spelled out in the management plan. SSA applies to reaches with unique stream features or stretches that are important to Conservation Department stream management efforts.

Getting Government Agencies Involved

In a democracy, you and I are the government. In this age of specialization, however, there are so many agencies and organizations involved with water that getting them to improve streams can be challenging.

Stream managers cooperated with other agencies to improve streams and stream corridors on their lands and did some work on streams on our own areas, too. Since 1989, the Conservation Department has installed 138 stream improvement projects, mostly on public lands. Many of these also serve as demonstration areas for landowners to visit, view and determine if a similar technique will work on their lands.

As a precursor to cooperative stream projects, we have started to inventory the conditions of all Missouri streams and incorporate them into basin inventory and management plans. The state is divided into 40 river basins; plans have been drafted or approved on a fourth of them and the remainder will be completed by 2000.

A basin-wide look at stream problems will help us all focus on the most pressing problems first. We have also cooperated on watershed projects with other agencies on Locust Creek and Brush Creek and are looking for other opportunities as well.

What does the future hold? More of the same. We want to work with other agencies to install stream improvement projects, watershed projects and other cooperative ventures.

Stream demonstration areas will also be expanded and promoted.

Streams for the Future aims to improve streams, but it's not the Conservation Department's job to do so alone. Streams have declined over decades for reasons that involve all of us directly or indirectly. We are all a part of the problem.

Streams for the Future provides opportunities for everyone to get involved in the solution to stream problems. It'll take dedication and a lot of time, but there's something for everyone in Streams for the Future.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer