Primary Headwater Streams in Ohio

Headwater streams are the small creeks, brooks, springs and ravines that are the origin of most rivers. These small streams join together to form larger streams and rivers or run directly into larger streams and lakes. Ohio EPA defines a headwater stream as a stream with a watershed less than or equal to 20 square miles. Many streams and drainage ways have a watershed of less than one square mile. We refer to these as “primary headwater” streams.  These streams may be home to small fish, amphibians and invertebrates.

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Fact Sheets

Ohio EPA has prepared a set of fact sheets about primary headwater streams to promote a wider understanding of the value and importance of these waters. Local governments, soil and water conservation districts, watershed groups and others are encouraged to learn more and take a variety of steps to promote sound land use management and protection of primary headwater streams.

The Importance and Benefits of Primary Headwater Streams
This fact sheet discusses various areas relating to the importance of primary headwater streams including: the health of larger streams and rivers; sediment, nutrient, and flood control; wildlife habitat; and water and food supplies.

Ohio EPA's Primary Headwater Stream Project: Key Findings
This fact sheet illustrates and discusses the main categories of primary headwater streams.

Nonpoint Source Impacts on Primary Headwater Streams
This fact sheet discusses why primary headwater streams should be protected from nonpoint source impacts, their relation to Ohio’s 319 program, and initiatives that promote improved management of these streams.

Economic Reasons for Sound Management of Primary Headwater Streams
This fact sheet discusses the economic benefits to good stewardship and the proper management of primary headwater streams.

Project Reports & Field Evaluation Methods

This report summarizes the types of fish and amphibians that have been collected by Ohio EPA during surveys of primary headwater streams.

This report summarizes macroinvertebrate information collected by Ohio EPA during surveys of primary headwater streams.

This report presents and summarizes the physical, chemical, and morphological data that were collected by Ohio EPA during surveys of primary headwater streams.

This manual is a tool to promote the standardized assessment of primary headwater streams in Ohio. It contains the Headwater Habitat Evaluation Index (HHEI) Form which should be used in conjunction with this evaluation manual.  Previous versions of the manual are available here:

  • See the table below for forms and figures in the manual.
2009 2018

Figure 15. PHWH classification flow chart based on HHEI scoring

Figure 18. HHEI Flow Chart

Figure 17. Level 1 Assessment
Figure 18. Level 2 Assessment
Figure 19. Level 3 Assessment

Figure 20. Level 1 Assessment
Figure 21. Level 2 Assessment
Figure 22. Level 3 Assessment

Primary Headwater Habitat Evaluation (HHEI) Form
PHWH Stream Biological Characteristics Field Sheet

Primary Headwater Evaluation (HHEI) Form
PHW Stream Biological Characteristics Field Sheet

Salamander voucher form

Salamander voucher form


Questions & Answers

Why are small streams important?
Small streams are "feeder" streams that play a vital role in the health of larger streams and rivers.  See Clean Rivers Spring from Their Source: The Importance & Management of Headwater Streams - August 2001 for more facts.

What lives in primary headwater streams?
Learn about the different animals that live in these streams.  

What work has Ohio EPA done with primary headwater streams?
See Slide show presentation - April 2002. This presentation summarizes the Division's work with primary headwater streams through the year 2001.  It addresses what primary headwater streams are, why primary headwater streams are important, what lives in primary headwater streams, how primary headwater streams fit into Ohio's stream network, and Ohio EPA field study results through the year 2001.

What is a primary headwater stream?
Generally speaking, these are small streams having a drainage area of less than one square mile.  Primary headwater streams are capable of supporting a wide variety of aquatic insects, fish and amphibians, such as salamanders.  There are several different types or classes of primary headwater streams.  See the Primary Headwater Field Evaluation Manual and for more details.

What water quality criteria apply to protect the aquatic life present in primary headwater streams?
The chemical criteria associated with the Warmwater Habitat aquatic life use apply to all primary headwaters streams.

Does the State's antidegradation rule apply to primary habitat streams?
Yes. Primary headwater streams, even if not specifically named in the Ohio's Water Quality Standards rules, are considered general high quality waters and are subject to all applicable provisions of the antidegradation rule.


Examples of Ohio primary headwater streams

Examples of waters or streams that are not considered primary headwater habitat streams


Ohio EPA programs related to primary headwater streams Chris Skalski
DSW Standards & Technical Support Section

(614) 644-2144


Audrey Rush
DSW Standards & Technical Support Section
(614) 644-2035

Field Evaluation Manual or headwater stream field data

Chris Skalski
DSW Standards & Technical
Support Section
(614) 644-214