Anything stored on streambanks will eventually smother and kill existing riparian vegetation, whether it is trash or green waste such as grass clippings, branch prunings, and leaf piles. Hopefully by now we have impressed upon you the importance of healthy vegetation in the riparian zone. Loss of riparian plants degrades wildlife habitat and accelerates bank erosion when there are no longer plant roots helping to stabilize the banks. Excess erosion, in turn, leads to property damage and potential property loss. It also impacts aquatic habitat.
When excess sediment flushes downstream it reduces the sunlight available to aquatic plants and smothers fish eggs.
Serious problems also arise when debris gets into the stream. Stream levels can rise dramatically during storm events and spring runoff, and any debris on the banks will get carried downstream. Grass clippings, tree branches, construction materials, etc. blocks culvert openings and gets hung up on bridges. This can cause flooding and property damage for you and/or your downstream neighbors. In addition, excess amounts of organic matter (grass, leaves, etc.) depletes dissolved oxygen in water because organic matter uses oxygen as it decomposes. This can have serious impacts on fish, insects and other aquatic life that need oxygen to survive.
Trash grates help prevent the damage that can be caused by debris in urban streams. Salt Lake County Flood Control crews check and clean the grates before, during, and after storms. Approximately 70% of all the debris removed from the grates is “manmade”, including things such as pruned tree branches and cut tree trunks. This can get as high as 90% in the spring. In addition to debris removal during storms, the crews walk every stream that is considered a “flood control facility” (which is just about all of them) to survey and remove problem trees, branches, and trash. Maintenance of flood control facilities is mandated per Title 17 of the Salt Lake County Code of Ordinances.
Bottom line, be a good stream steward and properly dispose of your debris. Don’t dump it in the creek. Don’t store it on the streambank. This will go a long way toward protecting stream health and preventing property damage.