I was perusing topographic maps the other day and was pondering all the different forms of water flow. We have rivers, creeks, brooks (small streams), and springs. I found myself asking what makes a creek a creek and a river a river? I assumed there was some size classification set up so that if a stream was so many feet wide it was a river. My research revealed that a creek is a vague concept.
The dictionary defines a creek a small stream, somewhat larger than a brook. A river is defined as a stream larger than a creek. This “larger than” description is popular, but unsatisfying, so I forged on and found no size classification to break out a stream as a creek or river. But I did get some descriptions that might help, so here goes.
A river is fairly large, has a distinct channel, and empties into an ocean or a lake. A creek is an “in between” stream that carries water delivered to it from brooks and carries it to a river. A brook is a small flow of water that begins as water seeping from the ground, like from springs. I also ran across other stream terms, such as a rivulet, another name for a small stream. There are also “branches” named on topographic maps, such as Water Prong Branch near where I live.
Whatever you call them, streams are the conduits that carry rain and snow back to the ocean, and offer humans a tremendous resource of water for drinking, washing, fishing, and natural beauty. Nothing calms the nerves like sitting by small stream and listening to its serenade as it flows past. The Bible mentions the importance of streams in Deuteronomy: “The Lord God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water.” Our water resources are vast but can still be ruined by carelessness, so please help protect our waters and keep them clean. Construction of homes and roads can put a lot of silt into streams without proper planning, and the same goes for timber logging and farming. Contact the proper resource agency in your area for advice or assistance on any project that may affect water quality. Agencies that can help include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, UT Agricultural Extension, and your state Division of Forestry.