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Enjoying Streams

Montgomery County’s outdoor water resources -- our lakes, ponds and streams -- are valuable natural resources. While residents and visitors are encouraged to take advantage of these resources, there are some basic precautions you should be aware of when recreating in or around any County waterway.



Staying Safe Around Our Waterways:

  • The best way to enjoy a stream safely is to walk along its banks. You'll more easily be able to spot tripping hazards and areas where you could slip.  In the water, those hazards can be submerged and hard to see.


  • Staying on the stream bank also keeps you safe from the strong currents. After storms, streams can swell with fast moving, brown water. It is easy to get pulled by the current or be hit by materials floating downstream. NEVER enter any stream that is swollen beyond its banks.


  • Remember to wash your skin after exposure to stream water. Even the cleanest streams can contain bacteria that wash off roads or developments, especially after a rain storm.  The bacteria can be from wildlife, pets and human activity. Be extremely cautious if you have open cuts where the bacteria can enter and do not drink the water.  


Family enjoying a stream


  • If you enter a stream or river, be careful of slippery rocks and wear protective footwear. You may encounter sharp objects and broken glass.


  • Swimming in natural water bodies is very different than a swimming pool. There are currents than can pull a person underwater and water clarity decreases visibility, making it difficult to see drop offs in depth and underwater obstructions. Red Cross offers some tips on Swimming Safely in Lakes, Rivers and Streams. There are some Maryland state parks that allow swimming.


  • NEVER enter a stormwater pond. No swimming, skating, or wading is permitted. Stormwater management ponds collect and store sediment. The sediment at the bottom of the pond is not solid. It is thick and mushy, and when a person steps on it, they can get sucked in and stuck. Although the ponds are not particularly deep, the suction can trap a person, leading to drowning or hypothermia.


Image of Do Not Swim Warning


Keeping Wildlife Safe Around Waterways:

  • A visit to a stream or stormwater management pond is a great opportunity to spot wildlife. Snakes, turtles and other animals live in and around these water bodies. Enjoy and respect these creatures from a distance. Please leave them in place for their safety and ours. Entering streams disturbs the fish and other small creatures that call the stream home. 


  • Do not release unwanted aquatic pets into surface waters. This is not helpful for the unwanted pet and you may be inadvertently introducing an invasive species into the natural ecosystem.


  • Clean up your pet’s waste.  Not only will this help prevent adding more bacteria to surface waters, but it is required by Montgomery County Code, Sec. 5-203(a)(2)


  • Help the Department of Environmental Protection keep our streams safe by reporting any problems you see in or around streams to 3-1-1


Common Stream Problems

Image of sediment contamination of a stream.
Sediment from a construction site (Brown color)

Rain and melted snow flow over concrete, asphalt and other developed surfaces on the way to storm drains and then our local waters (streams, ponds and lakes).  Along the journey, stormwater can pick up trash, pollutants and other materials.

These pollutants, depending on their type, can cause visually discolored water, floating sheen, foul odors and residues. The pollutants can sometimes even results in distressed or dying aquatic animals.  


Some of the Most Common Stream Concerns Reported to DEP:

  • Brown or rust colored water:  This can be associated with sediment discharges from construction sites or public water main breaks.

  • Gray colored water:  This can be associated with runoff from the clean out of concrete trucks and/or concrete construction sites.

  • White colored water:  This is generally associated with the improper disposal of paint waste.

  • Gray colored water with sewage odor and/or bits of paper:  This is generally associated with a sanitary sewer overflow.

  • Improper disposal of yard trim debris:  Dumping of yard trim in and around streams is considered illegal dumping.  

  • Improper clean up of pet waste:  You are required to clean up after your pet by Montgomery County Code, Sec. 5-203(a)(2)

If you see a problem in or around any surface water source, please contact 3-1-1 to report the issue.


Image of paint contamination of a stream
Paint contamination of a stream. (White color)


Follow-up Resources