One of the easiest ways you can be a good steward is by simply knowing your watershed. This means learning about the larger area that the stream flows through and how you and your property fit into this larger picture. First steps to knowing your watershed include:
Learn about the geography, geology and water flows of your watershed.
This will help you understand where the water in your stream is coming from, what types of land it flows through before arriving on your property and the types of land it will flow through after your property.
Surf Your Watershed
is a great online resource provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for learning more about your watershed!
A crossing downstream of your property may influence how you manage woody material
Learn about how the stream is being used upstream and downstream of your property.
For example, irrigation diversion dams upstream of you are likely to cause changes to the flows in your stream. On the other hand, if there is an irrigation ditch diversion downstream of your property, it will be helpful to know that the ditch company may dredge their ditch. As a result, this will cause changes in how the stream moves sediment on your property.
Other items to keep in mind include considering how people may be using the stream for agricultural, recreational, business and social uses. Knowing what the stream is being used for upstream and downstream of your property will help you make decisions about what types of improvements or maintenance will be most effective.
Another way to become familiar with the stream flows in your watershed is to look at and understand the data collected at USGS gages. The USGS has monitoring gages at multiple points along streams and rivers and the data collected is publicly available. The data is typically shown in a graph known as a hydrograph. Below is a hydrograph for the 2016 for the Big Thompson River as it flows through Loveland. Labels A, B and C note seasonal variations and the reasons for the changes.
Low stream flows during cold winter
Agricultural diversions can cause low flows in spring and summer months
Peak high flows during spring snowmelt/runoff
Hot, dry summers result in more irrigation diversions and lower stream flows
Now that you know where to find a hydrograph and how to read one, what can you learn from a hydrograph of your stream?
What times of the year your reach of the stream typically has the highest and lowest flows.
What types of flows your stream experiences and what they look like on your property. Compare the discharge numbers with what you are seeing on your property.
How the annual cycles are generally consistent, but flows can also vary based on short thunderstorms, or longer storm seasons. No two years will look exactly alike.