Don't Go With the Flow

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 30, 2010

Most rural landowners, and many urban landowners, have some form of stream running across or adjacent to their property. It may be as big as the Missouri River, or small enough to step over. In any case, water flowing through a channel will always cause some erosion. In healthy stream conditions this isn’t a problem, but in other cases erosion may become excessive and cause serious damage in a short period of time.

Slow the flow

Stream banks with minimal erosion are considered stable. Unstable banks are those eroding at an excessive rate.

Flowing water has the power to pick up and move soil, sand, gravel and, sometimes, large rocks. The more powerful the flow, the more erosion it is likely to cause. In most cases, the faster and deeper the water flows, the more power it has to erode. So it makes sense that reducing the power of flowing water reduces stream bank erosion.

Stable stream banks in Missouri are usually covered with deep-rooted plants. This coverage continues onto nearby land, or stream corridors. Plants minimize erosion because they slow down the flow of water and their roots hold the soil in place. Streams that meander, rather than flow in straight lines, also slow water flow and keep erosion in check.

People often increase the power of streams inadvertently. For example, they convert a portion of a stream’s watershed from a healthy forest to an urban setting with many roads, parking lots and driveways. Rainwater that was once held by the forest floor and slowly released to the stream now runs off rapidly. The stream receives faster and deeper flows more often than in the past. This results in unstable stream banks and excessive erosion. It is also common for stream banks to become unstable when their vegetation is removed with heavy equipment or significantly reduced by livestock.

Treat the cause

Rather than simply treating the symptoms, it is important to diagnose the cause of unstable stream banks. This often requires the assistance of trained professionals. The Department of Conservation has helped landowners correct stream bank erosion for more than 15 years. Specially trained employees assist hundreds of landowners each year.

The Department has worked to develop practical stream bank erosion-control practices. These methods have high success rates and low maintenance requirements. They include cedar tree revetments and bendway weirs.

A cedar tree revetment involves anchoring a series of cedar trees at the base of a stream bank. This

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