A stream can be defined as a body of water with a current, confined within a channel with banks. Streams are smaller water bodies than rivers, and they can be referred to by a variety of names, some of the more common being brook, stream, run, rill, branch, fork, and lick.

Spruce Run at Middle Creek

Credit: - David Barrow

Another way of naming streams has to do with the relative size of the water body; this method is often used by hydrologists, biologists, and watershed specialists. This terminology describes streams as being first, second, third order streams, and so on. First order streams are rather small, do not have other streams feeding into them, and are usually found in the upper reaches of a watershed. When two first order streams converge, they create a second order stream. Two second order streams merging together make a third order stream, etc. As an example, in the far north west corner of Frederick County near Pleasant Valley, is the upper reach of Harman Branch, which is a first order stream. Harman Branch flows south until it empties into Dry Run, around Wolfsville Road, creating a larger second order stream. Dry Run continues southward until it merges with Middle Creek, near the Town of Wolfsville. Middle Creek continues until it joins Catoctin Creek near Route 40 at Harmony, creating a fairly large, third order stream. Catoctin Creek continues on its journey southward, until it empties into the Potomac River, a fourth order stream, near Lander. The Potomac River eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

Most of the streams, brooks, rills, branches, and creeks in Frederick County are of the first and second order variety, and these smaller water bodies accept drainage from a large area of the landscape. That is why targeting the smaller first and second order streams for reforestation and other restoration work has more impact on water quality than simply trying to clean the water that is already in the Potomac or Monocacy Rivers.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 5/13/2018