Sediment is a natural part of all stream ecosystems. Excessive sediment from streambank erosion, however, is bad for water quality. Sediment is a major pollutant in the French Broad River and its tributaries. Sediment clogs fish gills, makes it difficult for predator fish to hunt, and destroys habitat critical for their survival. Contaminants can also bind to sediment and be transported throughout a watershed. Stream restoration projects aim to improve water quality by reducing sediment from erosion and ultimately return the stream to a healthy, functional ecosystem.
Each restoration project is unique to the stream, but involves stabilizing eroding streambanks through grading and planting woody vegetation to hold them in place. Stream restorations often include in-water structures that create pools and riffles, which help oxygenate the water and provide a diversity of habitats for fish and other aquatic wildlife. Some situations simply call for a change in land management, such as not mowing to the top of the streambank so that woody vegetation can grow.
The plant community beside a body of water is known as the riparian buffer. Native woody plants make the best riparian buffers as their deep, extensive root systems stabilize streambanks better than non-native plants like fescue grass or bamboo. Riparian buffers moderate water temperatures and provide food and cover for wildlife. They are also the first line of protection against polluted runoff entering a stream.
RiverLink has helped restore over 2.5 miles of streams in the French Broad River Watershed and continues to seek impaired streams and funding for future projects. If you have a stream on your property with eroding streambanks, you may benefit from a stream restoration. We also host workshops on small-scale streambank repair where dormant cuttings of native woody plants (a.k.a. live stakes) are installed. You can also get involved as a volunteer to help create healthy riparian buffers through invasive plant removal.