Why and How Do We Restore Streams?
Sediment is a natural part of all stream ecosystems, however excessive sediment from streambank erosion is bad for water quality. Sediment is a major pollutant in the French Broad River and its tributaries. It 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 involves stabilizing eroding streambanks through grading and planting woody vegetation to hold the banks 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 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.
Streambank restoration is recognized by the EPA as a climate mitigation strategy. The many ecological benefits to streambank restoration help protect communities from the worst impacts of climate change. Flooding risks can be better managed by protecting floodplains, maintaining riparian buffers that can absorb excess precipitation from more frequent and intensifying weather events. The increased capacity for stormwater infiltration also protects communities from more frequent drought conditions by banking groundwater for future availability. Reducing erosion and stabilizing streambanks helps protect the natural resources communities rely on for economic and health benefits.
RiverLink has helped restore over 2.5 miles of streams in the French Broad River Watershed and continues to seek 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, installing cuttings of native woody plants (a.k.a. live stakes) which grow to full size and help hold the bank. You can also get involved as a volunteer to help create healthy riparian buffers through invasive plant removal.
Stream Restoration Resources
- USGS Streamflow and the Water Cycle
- N.C. State Stream Restoration Program
- Stream Restoration Techniques- Dpt. Environmental Protection Maryland
- N.C. State Backyard Stream Repair
- Stream Restoration Permit Guidance- N.C. Department of Environmental Quality