Striving to improve Warm Springs Run
Kate Lehman, president of the Warm Springs Watershed Association, last week presented slide presentations to both the Morgan County Commission and the Town of Bath Council.
The Association has received a $30,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Regulatory and Accountability Program.
Lehman said the money would be used to hire an engineering consulting firm to study the stream end-to-end and produce a report recommending courses of action.
She said her purpose in giving the slide presentation was to educate both the county commissioners and the town council members about Warm Springs Run and some of the issues the county and town might have to address in the future.
The title of the slide presentation was “Why good streams go bad.”
“There is a tendency to think of a stream as being good when it does things we like or want,” she said. For instance, a stream can be used for recreational purposes and to provide drinking water. Larger waterways can be used for transportation of people and supplies.
“And there is a tendency to think of streams as being bad when they do things we don’t like, when they cost us money or do damage to property or even cost us human life,” Lehman said.
She explained that streams are constantly changing due to erosion and sediment building up and the natural process of the stream changing course as it matures.
Young streams flow in a relatively straight line while old streams grow “sinuous” developing S-shaped curves as sediment from one side of the stream is deposited on the other.
The scientific term for this process is called geomorphology, she said.
“It is important to note that these processes take place with or without human intervention.”
“Another thing that streams do by their nature is flood.” She listed four factors that “exacerbate or make flooding worse than it might have been.”
Those factors are poor Riparian buffers, excess sedimentation causing shallow stream beds, straight stretches causing faster water flow and heavy runoff from impervious surfaces.
“A Riparian buffer is the interface between the stream and the land.” A good Riparian buffer is made up of shrubs and fast and slow growing trees that help to reduce flooding. Lehman said the Riparian buffer on Warm Springs Run is “disturbed from beginning to end.”
Addressing her second point, Lehman said when the bed of a stream becomes shallower there is no place for the excess water to go but over the banks.
Third, a straight stream causes the water to flow faster picking up more sediment and dumping it where the stream curves or slows down.
Fourth, she said the sudden introduction of water runoff from impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, sidewalks, roofs and other structures can cause flooding and flash flooding.
Local risk factors
Impervious surfaces make up 17 percent of the total watershed. “That’s a very large percentage. It gives a very different landscape than say Sleepy Creek, she said.”
Ninety percent of rainfall will soak into undisturbed ground cover while only 45 percent will soak into the ground when you have impervious surfaces. “That 45 percent ends up in the stream causing flash flooding.”
Another local risk factor is the geography of the valley. The ridges or either side are made of soft dirt and sandstone that are more likely to erode. “There is going to be more erosion than if we had gently rolling plains, Lehman said.”
Deforestation is another risk factor. “Since 2005, about 10 percent of the watershed, 700 and some odd acres, have been forested and 235 acres have been clear cut.” This contributes to erosion and sediment in the run.
Development, raised manholes in the run, bridge abutments, and drain pipes are other factors increasing sediment in the water.
“The end result, and this is just one example, is flooding at the high school.” Because the high school is built in a flood plain it will flood anyway, but it is much worse because of these factors, Lehman explained.
What can be done
“Each of us as individuals can make a difference.”
One suggestion is to install rain barrels to catch rain water and prevent runoff from roofs. Another example of how people can protect the stream is by building rain gardens.
Lehman said the Riparian buffer is slowly being restored by clubs, organizations, the watershed association and the Town of Bath planting trees.
The county’s stormwater management ordinance helps by requiring developers to install holding ponds. She also noted the Sleepy Creek Watershed Association has recently installed permeable paving at the industrial park.
There is an ongoing effort by several organizations to put in some permeable paving in town, she said.
“We want to look at how we can work together to preserve, protect and restore the run and make it a real asset to Morgan County. The run is still going to flood, but we hope not as dramatically, or in ways that are as destructive to human interest,” Lehman said.
The watershed association hopes to have a contract signed with an engineering firm to study the run by mid-March and a report by June 30.