Streams naturally change, move and deposit predictable amounts of sediment (silt, sand, and soil) within a well-defined riparian zone (the vegetated area along streambanks). However, when land use changes occur, vegetation is removed, and hard (impervious) surfaces are added, water is forced to run over soil it used to infiltrate through (flow into). The loss of water storage in soil due to land use changes can upset a well-defined streams behavior. Increased streamflow rates result in a more erosive stream system, capable of increased flooding, streambank failures, and excess sedimentation (transport of soil) downstream. These erosive stream behaviors pollute water, can threaten infrastructure, and can damage property of those living in the floodplain.
Unnatural streambank erosion due to land use changes is a leading cause of increased sedimentation in Northeast Ohio. Increased sediment loads in our streams and lakes are detrimental to aquatic wildlife and habitat and effect industrial and recreational use of a waterbody. These increased sediment loads lead to large community cleanup costs every year. The Rocky River Watershed Action Plan has identified sedimentation as a major pollutant in nine tributaries as well as the main stem of Rocky River.
Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) has started tracking streambank erosion in the Baldwin Creek Watershed (a tributary watershed to Rocky River) with the goal of reducing sediment loads in a way that works with the stream to establish aquatic habitat and return normal stream function, all while protecting infrastructure and property. The hope is that by identifying areas with high streambank erosion rates, Cuyahoga SWCD can work with property owners to install streambank stabilization projects that meet watershed and property owner needs.
For those currently living with streambank erosion, there are small steps you can take now to help reduce streambank erosion on your property that stop short of an extensive streambank restoration project. These steps can provide immediate benefit to you, your backyard stream, and your downstream neighbors:
1) Leave a riparian buffer (vegetated area) near your stream. Do not mow your lawn right up to streams edge. Vegetation near the stream provides important root structure that retains streambank soil.
2) Don’t use artificial armoring on your streambank! (No rocks, bricks, old cars, barbed wire, or concrete slabs please) If you find yourself in need of streambank stabilization, contact Cuyahoga SWCD to discuss bio-engineered methods that will last longer, be more effective, and prevent unwanted side effects downstream.
3) Make small changes at home. Install a rain barrel, a rain garden, or permeable pavers to reduce the amount of runoff that goes directly from your property to the stream.
As Cuyahoga SWCD continues their streambank erosion assessments next spring, anticipate future blogs discussing sedimentation, the assessment process, and how you can lend a hand!