Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst: Worksheet 6: Stream and Drainageway Management

Water is one of our most important resources. Numerous farms have a stream or drainageway cutting through heavily used pastures, exercise lots, or barnyards.
Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst: Worksheet 6: Stream and Drainageway Management - Articles


Why Be Concerned?

Water is one of our most important resources. In the past, it was advantageous to have a water source close to the farmstead. Today, numerous farms have a stream or drainageway cutting through heavily used pastures, exercise lots, or barnyards. As more livestock are concentrated on an area, the potential in-creases for sediment, bacteria, nitrogen, and phosphorus to run off into these streams. However, if managed properly, on-farm streams can be useful for livestock watering and valuable for fish and wildlife habitat.

Good management methods protect streams from soil erosion and water contamination. Stable, well-vegetated streambanks and buffer strips reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients leaving the farm and entering the water. Forested stream buffer strips stabilize banks, lower stream temperatures, and provide insects and litter for aquatic life.

Good management also discourages livestock from spending time in the water. Herd health may be improved if livestock wastes do not enter streams. Fortunately, good stream management often involves inexpensive actions.

The goal of Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst is to help you protect groundwater and surface water, shared resources that are important to everyone.

How to Rank Groundwater and Surface Water Protection Using This Worksheet

  • You can select from a wide range of conditions and management practices that are related to potential surface water and groundwater contamination.
  • You can rank the conditions and management practices on your operation according to how they might affect surface water or groundwater.
  • Based on your overall ratings, you can determine which of your conditions or practices are reasonably safe and effective, and which might require modification to better protect surface water and groundwater.

How to Complete the Worksheet

Download the Stream and Drainage Management worksheet . Follow the directions listed below. The evaluation should take 15 to 30 minutes for each evaluation site to complete and determine your ranking. Evaluate each stream or drainageway on your farm. There are spaces provided to rank up to three sites. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms used, refer to the glossary provided with this worksheet.

Information derived from Farm-A-Syst worksheet is intended only to provide general information and recommendations to farmers regarding their own farmstead practices. It is not the intent of this educational program to keep records of individual results. However, they may be shared with others who will help you develop a resource management plan.

How to Use These Rankings

Step 1. Now that each feature has been ranked, add all these rankings together and put that value in the “Total” box at the end of the worksheet. Transfer that number to the box below.

Step 2. Divide the value in the “Total” box by the number of features ranked.

Step 3. Repeat for the remaining sites. Calculate the average ranking for all sites combined.

Step 4. Evaluate the overall management practices and site conditions.

  • 3.6-4.0 = best management
  • 2.6-3.5 = good management
  • 1.6-2.5 = fair management
  • 1.0-1.5 = poor management

This ranking gives an idea of how stream and drainageway conditions and management practices as a whole might affect both surface water and groundwater quality. This ranking should serve only as a very general guide, not a precise diagnosis. Since it represents an averaging of many individual rankings, it can mask any individual rankings (such as 1’s and 2’s) that should be of concern.

Step 5. Look over the rankings for individual features of each site:

  • Best (4’s): the current ideal
  • Good (3’s): provides reasonable surface water and groundwater protection
  • Fair (2’s): inadequate protection in many circumstances
  • Poor (1’s): poses a high risk of polluting surface water or groundwater

Regardless of the overall ranking, any individual rankings of “1” should receive immediate attention. Some concerns can be taken care of right away; others could be major or costly projects, requiring planning and prioritizing before taking action.

Step 6. Consider how to modify farm management practices or site conditions to better protect water quality. For more information, contact the local conservation district, Penn State Extension office, or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for ideas, suggestions, or guidance.


Berm: An elevated strip of vegetated land next to a stream that helps to reduce erosion by directing surface water to a safe outlet, such as a surface water entry structure.

Buffer strip: A permanent strip of vegetation along the side of a watercourse. It helps reduce soil erosion and water pollution. Trees can provide extra water quality benefits such as shade, leaf litter and woody debris. A 4:1 ratio of forest buffer to grass buffer width generally provides the greatest benefits.

Channel: The pathway of a stream through which water flows.

Channel alteration: Changing the flow path of a stream.

Drainageway: Waterway, generally vegetated, that carries runoff or shallow surface water.

Drop structure: A structure to control erosion by directing water from a high level to a lower level. May include rock chute spillways or drop pipe inlets.

Groundwater: Water beneath the earth’s surface that supplies wells, springs, and base flow in streams.

Obnoxious weeds: Weed plants that are undesirable because of their appearance, invasive nature, or seed-spreading capabilities, including noxious weeds that are illegal to propagate, sell, or transport in Pennsylvania.

Slumping: A downward movement of the slope of the streambank leaving an exposed soil surface behind.

Stream: A natural watercourse that carries water for all or part of the year.

Stream crossing: A structure for livestock and machinery to cross a stream. It is constructed at the bottom of the stream and has an erosion resistant surface. All water flows over the structure, and livestock and machinery must cross through the water.

Surface water: Water at the earth’s surface, such as ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, etc.

Surface water entry structure: A structure to control erosion by conveying concentrated flows of surface water from the top of the streambank to the watercourse. May include rock chute spillways, drop pipe inlets, or grade control structures.

Tile outlet protection: The use of an erosion-resistant material, such as rock riprap, on top of a filter cloth, to protect the streambank area where water exits a tile drain.


Material for the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was developed by revising Farm-A-Syst material from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and the National Farmstead Assessment System Program. The format and style for the Pennsylvania package was based on the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan published by Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition, Ontario, Canada.

Partial funding for the development of the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was provided by the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts through the Chesapeake Bay Program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Preparation: Shelly Ogline, project assistant, Penn State Extension; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Department of Agronomy, Penn State.

Project Coordinators: Barry Frantz, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Department of Agronomy, Penn State; Jerry Martin, Penn State Extension.

Advisory Committee: Larry Martick, district manager, Adams County Conservation District; Lamonte Garber, agricultural specialist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Lori Sandman, project leader, Dairy Network Partnership; Amanda Ritchey, ridge and valley coordinator, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; Tom McCarty, multicounty water quality educator, Penn State Extension; Susan Fox, extension educator, Penn State Extension, Bedford County.

Technical Review: Eugene Counsil, Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Dams, Waterways, and Wetlands; Karl Lutz, area coordinator, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission; Patricia Pingel, Pennsylvania Bureau of Land and Water Conservation, John Miele, park manager, Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks.


Preparation: Jerry Martin, Penn State Cooperatve Extension. Project Coordinators: Doug Beegle, Penn State Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Jerry Martin, Penn State Extension.

Advisory Committee: Tom McCarty, multicounty water quality extension educator, Penn State Extension; Kelly O’Neill, agricultural policy analyst, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Carl Rohr, conservation program specialist, Bureau of Watershed Protection, Department of Environmental Protection.

Technical Review: Karl Lutz, area habitat manager, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst is a cooperative effort among Penn State Extension, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.