Rivers and Streams

The rivers and streams of the Chesapeake Bay watershed are home to a diverse population of fish, invertebrates, amphibians and other wildlife. Freshwater tributaries support algae, mosses, and other species of underwater plants. These streams also support diverse “benthic,” or bottom-dwelling, communities of bacteria, worms, crustaceans and insect larvae. In spring, hatching aquatic insects are an important food source for fish, amphibians and birds. Also in spring, the Bay’s anadromous fish species—such as shad and sturgeon—swim from the Bay or the ocean into freshwater tributaries to spawn. All of these species are necessary for a healthy stream ecosystem.

Rivers and streams supply our drinking water, irrigate our crops, power cities with hydroelectricity and provide countless recreational and commercial opportunities. They also filter pollutants and mitigate damage from floods. The condition of the nation’s rivers, streams and wetlands varies widely. The construction of cities, towns and dams, the operation of farms, mines and factories, and many other human activities have significant impacts on water quality. Understanding the condition of these waterways is critical if we are to develop effective plans to maintain, manage and restore them.