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Stabilizing stream banks

Maintain your natural waterway for a stable (and beautiful) property

When you see a stream bank with bare spots and trees falling in, it’s a sign that the bank need to be stabilized.

Paul Rodrigue is a supervisory engineer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He says bank erosion often happens when something in that stream channel is amiss.

"Typically it’s because something has happened either upstream in the watershed to put more water into the stream, or possibly downstream at what we call the outlet, and so the stream is trying to create a new stream size," says Rodrigue. "Typically when we talk about streambank erosion, we’re treating a symptom of another problem. But, for that particular landowner, they have to protect their land and resource."

One course of action includes adding rock over geotextile where the bank slope comes down and meets the streambed. How far the rock and geotextile goes up the bank will vary depending on the situation. However, Rodrigue discourages using rock, or rip-rap from the streambed all the way to the top of the bank. There also needs to be native vegetation so the roots can hold the soil.

He says the best is switchgrass, which grows anywhere in the United States.

"It’s a deep-rooted plant, it’s slow to get established," says Rodrigue. "But until you can get some other things going because a tree’s going to take a long time to develop a new root system, that switchgrass will put down a root system within three-years, and also provides a buffer for water."

Rodrigue recommends backing up any farming or animal grazing activity 100-feet from the bank until you get ahold of the situation. He says letting the vegetation grow in that area provides a buffer along the stream bank, which is imperative for its long-term stability.

Learn more about streambank and shoreline stability

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If you've got a stream or creek running through your property, you're lucky. But with the pleasure of that kind of natural feature comes the responsibility of maintaining it. Excess precipitation can cause banks to erode, which affects not only your property, but everything up- and downstream as well. Listen to today's program for more, and learn how the USDA may help offset the cost of a stabilization project.

For more information, we recommend the following links:

Stream corridor restoration: Download complete bank stabilization information from the USDA.

Conservation buffers: Planting buffer or filler strips between your stream and surrounding wildlife habitat or agricultural ground can protect the water from soil erosion and the watershed from contaminants.

Planning your riparian buffer: This fact sheet from the University of Nebraska Extension features a diagram of a properly designed buffer alongside a creek, and a list of recommended plants and trees to include.

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