A stream is a body of water with surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. The flow of a stream is controlled by three inputs – surface water, subsurface water and groundwater. The surface and subsurface water are highly variable between periods of rainfall. Groundwater, on the other hand, has a relatively constant input and is controlled more by long-term patterns of precipitation. The stream encompasses surface, subsurface and groundwater fluxes that respond to geological, geomorphological, hydrological and biotic controls.
Depending on its location or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to by a variety of local or regional names. Long large streams are usually called rivers.
Streams are important as conduits in the water cycle, instruments in groundwater recharge, and corridors for fish and wildlife migration. The biological habitat in the immediate vicinity of a stream is called a riparian zone. Given the status of the ongoing Holocene extinction, streams play an important corridor role in connecting fragmented habitats and thus in conserving biodiversity.
A perennial stream is one which flows continuously all year. Some perennial streams may only have continuous flow in segments of its stream bed year round during years of normal rainfall. Blue-line streams are perennial streams and are marked on topographic maps with a solid blue line. Generally, streams that flow only during and immediately after precipitation are termed ephemeral.