Oklahoma Low Impact Development
Natural Stream Restoration
Rivers and streams left in their natural state are of significant value to humans. They have specific functions that help maintain water quality, provide habitat for a myriad of plants and aquatic species and provides aesthetic and recreational opportunities. However, human activity, such as removal of trees and grasses along the bank, and friction of flowing water can result in damage that changes the basic ecological and physical structure of the stream. Once the stream has been degraded or disturbed it may not be able to effectively provide certain functions. This results in decreased water quality, habitat destruction, declining aesthetic value and recreational opportunities.
Natural stream restoration is the process of restoring a stream to a more natural state so it can provide the essential functions it did originally. This differs from conventional streambank stabilization that can be seen particularly in urban areas and around bridges. Some of the conventional ways streams have been repaired include using riprap, concrete and gabions. Installing riprap consists of placing rock or concrete chunks on a bank to stabilize it and reduce additional erosion. Metal cages called gabions may be used to hold the riprap in place. Gabions can also be cylindrical in shape and filled with rock and soil to be used as a sloped bank. Another option is to line the channel with concrete. In urban areas this is often used to direct stormwater flow. Each of these methods has pros and cons associated with using it. While they can provide bank stabilization long-term they are not as aesthetically pleasing as a grassy slope or other native vegetation. They can decrease the amount of fish habitat and may increase the amount of runoff pollution that goes into a stream as there is no longer any buffer to stop or slow down the flow from land to stream. When a channel is lined with concrete it increases the velocity of water flow and can cause erosion problems downstream where the channel is still in its natural state.
Natural stream restoration techniques return the stream to a more natural state by sloping banks and reintroducing vegetation to stabilize the bank, or using rocks and trees to direct the stream back to its original channel. Common natural restoration techniques include sloping the bank and planting vegetation, as well as using rock veins, j-hooks and root wads within the stream to direct flow. The benefits of natural stream restoration techniques include returning the bank and stream to a more aesthetically pleasing state. Also, riffles and small pools can be designed to enhance fish and wildlife habitat that may have been lost due to erosion and impaired water quality. Water quality improves by limiting the amount of sediment and other pollutants that can flow into the stream by planting and maintaining natural buffers. Since natural materials are used the impact on the area both during and after construction is minimal. Fallen trees and large rocks in one area of the stream corridor can be used in another to divert flow to protect the streambank.
Natural Stream Restoration in the News
Tahlequah Daily Press: Taking it to the bank
Tahlequah Daily Press: Project to stave off erosion in parks
Tahlequah Daily Press:Shoring up support
Storm Water Solutions: All the Way to the Bank
OSU Natural Stream Restoration Projects
Cow Creek, Stillwater, OK
Illinois River Stream Channel Restoration
Glossary of Stream Restoration Terms, Alabama Cooperative Extension Services
Ohio Stream Management Guide No 3 Natural Stream Processes, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Federal Stream Corridor Restoration Handbook, Natural Resource Conservation Services
Stream Restoration: Flow Deflection/Concentration Practices, Stormwater Center
Riparian Area Management Techniques, Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Bulletins, Journal Articles, and Handbooks
Stream Restoration: A Natural Channel Design Course, Engineer CE and North Carolina Stream Restoration Institute and North Carolina Sea Grant
Stream Restoration Strategies for Reducing River Nitrogen Loads, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Ecological Society of America
Natural Stream Restoration: Streams in Nature (Part I), from Oklahoma State University
Natural Stream Restoration: Good Streams Gone Bad (Part II), from Oklahoma State University
Natural Stream Restoration: Restoring Streams (Part III), from Oklahoma State University
Stream Restoration Techniques to prevent urban stormwater from blowing out stream channels.
Stream Restoration developed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
Other Stream Restoration Websites
Stream Restoration, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Wildland Hydrology Consultants, Dave Rosgen
Streams & Rivers Restoration, NOAA Habitat Conservation, National Marine Fisheries Service
Ecosystem Restoration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Stream Restoration Projects, North Carolina State University Stream Restoration ProgramTennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Honey Creek Restoration Project, Grand Lake Watershed Alliance Foundation