This is a streambank erosion story with a happy ending, at least so far. Many years ago, the stream that runs through the bottom of my property had a natural, sandy, sloped, streambank beach surrounded by boulders placed there by nature. It was a joy to visit. Here is a picture of my dog, Kody, enjoying the stream's edge in 2005.
Over the years, my beloved streambank turned into a deadly, vertical, scoured cliff due to increasing volumes of torrential runoff. The flows grew larger and more ferocious each year, as upstream infill development drove heightened volumes of runoff into the local streams each time it rained.
One by one (sometimes two at a time), my streamside trees fell into the stream and were washed away by the runoff. With each storm, more trees fell, and the erosion worsened.
Eventually, all the streamside trees were gone, along with the natural historic boulders that had helped stabilize the streambank. All that was left was a bare, steep, cliff.
A PLEA FOR HELP
The situation became dangerous. The cliff got more vertical and steeper every month, and eventually became concave. The occasional trespasser, who veered off the park trail onto my side of the stream, put their life at risk walking on the edge of my cliff alongside the stream. One day I observed a trespassing father holding the hand of his toddler daughter as they ventured along the edge of my now concave cliff edge, and that was it. I had to do something to stop the erosion and prevent a calamity on my property. I reached out to the county stormwater representatives, and, while they shared my concern, they initially said there was nothing they could do. The need for streambank repair in the county far exceeded available resources. But I persisted, and eventually in 2021, the county agreed to take on this streambank restoration project as an emergency repair. But it would take years for that to happen, because the project required numerous permits and a design plan.
In the meantime, in the spring of 2021, I began a restoration riparian buffer project to stave off further erosion and prevent trespassers from falling off the now15 foot-tall cliff. I used temporary fencing with signage to close off access to the stream edge, and planted native seedlings and native riparian buffer seed mixes within it. I hoped that this would deter trespassers, allow a riparian buffer to begin to grow, and maybe save the last mature streamside tree left standing, a huge Tulip Poplar.
Alas, the giant Tulip Poplar could not be saved.
While the riparian buffer project did not stop continued erosion, it did slow it and the trespassing down. I only lost about two feet of additional land to erosion during the following two years. Fencing the riparian buffer area led to the regeneration of many floodplain native plants that had been stripped bare by trespassers and erosion. The riparian buffer area became a lush, green habitat.
Eventually, in the summer of 2022, I began to see a few signs of progress on the county repair project. A crew showed up in late summer 2022 to do onsite topographical studies and informed me that design work for the emergency repair was underway. I was led to expect that the project would take place in the fall of 2022, but then was informed it had to wait until the following year so as not to interfere with the wood turtle mating season. I was ok with that.
Finally, in August 2023, a crew of contractors with heavy equipment appeared in the stream. They entered through the park side and spent two days pushing and lifting enormous boulders to fill in the steep concave cliff on my side of the stream. They used nearby fallen tree trunks and debris to fill in the enormous area. In what seemed like a flash, they repaired what had taken many years to deconstruct.
It seemed like a miracle, and still does several months later. The repair has survived several severe storms, remaining intact. Once again, I can venture down to the foot of my property and cross the stream, taking in its glory and abundance. My dogs can frolic in the waters while I sit on the boulders.
Here is a before and after comparison taken from across the stream.
I removed the temporary fencing on the riparian buffer, but left the “Restoration Underway” sign in place. Much work remains in this area to plant native seedlings and seed mixes, while carefully removing invasive plant material. It’s a labor of love and I can’t wait.
I share this story in gratitude for the county's assistance, and so that others may see that stream restoration projects can work well for the local ecosystem. The county used Natural Design Channel techniques in the restoration. They did not adversely affect any vegetation on the eroded side of the stream, and planted many native trees, shrubs, and seed mixes on the other side where they had to bring in the excavator. Most of what was removed on that side of the stream was invasive plant materials and brush so I was grateful that they removed it. As an Invasive Management Area (IMA) Site Leader for the park on the other side of the stream, I look forward to nurturing this area for years to come.