Many people dream of a country house with a stream; a place to cool one’s feet in the summer, and to watch fish, frogs and salamanders in one’s own backyard. Streams can be a wonderful aesthetic feature of a property, especially when embellished by a garden bridge and water plants. Happily, such waterways are numerous in rural areas. But there is a downside to this picture.
Moving water can be costly and difficult to maintain in order to keep it from creating hazards to homes and yards. For first time home buyers looking to buy or build a house in a rural area, it is important to understand the problems involved having watery inlets on one’s property.
The problem is that waterways do not stay the same. The force of the water makes for constant changes to the depth, width and stability of the stream bed. I know this from personal experience and have come to include stream maintenance as an expected expense.
There are three prominent problems presented by having creeks, streams and brooks near one’s house and garden:
1. Bank erosion
2. Filling-in with silt and debris
All of these problems are worse if your homestead and waterway is situated at the foot of a hill or at least on a downward slope.
Spring and summer are the worst seasons for waterway problems. If you live in a climate with a significant amount of snow, the early days of spring will bring snow run-off. Water from melted snow banks will run downhill and overwhelm stream and creek beds. Add to this scene the often-vigorous rainstorms of April and May, and a sleepy creek can become muddy rapids in just a few minutes.
While the silty water rushes through its channel, it erodes the edges or banks, undermining its grassy or root-bound edges. However, it also fills itself in, as the water carries with it a huge quantity of soil and debris.
As a result of this silting-in, the waterway becomes more and more shallow each time it has a rush of water go through it. This filling-in combined with eroded banks can result water leaking or rushing over the edges and flooding your property. If your house is nearby, the rushing water, which always finds the lowest spot, will end up in your basement.
What should you do if you wish to have, or already have, a backyard stream?
If you are about to build a house, check to see if there is a local zoning ordinance on how far a waterway must be from a building. Make sure that you build far away enough from the waterway to both comply with the law and to be far from any possible flood plane.
Homeowners may need to be ready to pay to have stream beds deepened every two to three years. This means paying a backhoe operator to dig it out. This is most efficiently done when water levels are low. A v-shaped furrow is dug. If your stream is notably slow and almost never gets deeper, then large stones may be placed against the sides to help prevent erosion. However, if the stream has periods of fast water movement, even relatively large stones may be carried along by the current and may create clogging problems further downstream. For faster streams, the strategy is more complicated. It may take very large heavy slabs layer against the sides. However, it may also be best not to do anything but to excavate every couple of years, and allow let the native plants to root and thus help to solidify the banks.
Good advice on how to handle your backyard waterway may be found at your local Rural Extension Office or your local or State Conservation Department.