May 30, 2004

Erosion is hazardous to watershed

Fishkill Creek area damaged by construction

By Dan Shapley
Poughkeepsie Journal

BRINCKERHOFF -- The Fishkill Creek is home to trout, great blue herons, turtles and other wildlife.

But as it winds through forests and backyards, along railroad tracks and highways, it has its problems.

"There is a lot of stream-bank erosion, especially where the houses are," Rick Oestrike, chairman of the volunteer Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee, said recently as he traveled along a stretch of the creek north of where it crosses Route 52. "There's some pretty bad erosion where they've cut down all the trees and shrubs."

Ongoing erosion, one of the creek's most pressing problems, can be addressed by property owners along its banks. Leaving trees and shrubs in place prevents erosion, protecting not only the health of the stream but the value of the property.

Where banks have been bared for lawns, Oestrike encourages landowners to replant native vegetation.

Erosion spills sediment into the creek, which can bury sensitive fish habitat and change stream dynamics that cause problems downstream.

Construction also causes erosion. Construction continues at a fast pace in the 193-square-mile Fishkill Creek Watershed, which includes 11 municipalities in southern Dutchess and northern Putnam counties.

Rapid growth is a cause

Residential land use in the watershed increased by 15.2 percent from 1995 to 2000, as farmland shrank by 21 percent. From 1990 to 2000, the combined population of Beekman, East Fishkill, Fishkill, LaGrange and Union Vale grew by 13 percent.

Developers must use screens and plantings to limit erosion during construction, but environmental watchdogs consistently charge that these measures are often improperly managed and inadequately enforced.

Other issues facing the creek include derelict dams that impede fish movements and a rise in impervious surfaces like pavement and rooftops throughout the watershed.

Studies have shown that increased runoff can impair water quality when as little as 10 percent of the land is covered in impervious surfaces. Runoff can include sediment, nutrients like lawn fertilizers and septic leachate and chemicals like petroleum and pesticides.

The Dutchess County Environmental Management Council, an advisory body to the county Legislature, is drafting a management plan for the watershed.

"Effectively, it will be an inventory of the resource," council Executive Director David Foord said.

The volunteer committee can use the plan to set goals, said David Burns, watershed coordinator for the council.

A similar effort in the Wappinger Creek watershed has led to towns adopting resolutions to improve the health of the watershed.

Copyright 2005, Poughkeepsie Journal. Reprinted with Permission.
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