Stabilization for PA’s streams
This is Conservation District Week. The Times Observer is publishing a series of articles — this is the third of four — on the history of Conservation Districts and how they work today; the effect of Conservation Districts on agriculture; their role in dirt and gravel road projects, stream stabilization projects, and the benefits of having project permits done locally; as well as education efforts and outdoor recreation opportunities with the Warren County Conservation District at the Hatch Run Conservation Demonstration Area.
Pennsylvania is home to 86,000 miles of streams. These streams are used for recreation such as fishing, boating, swimming, and learning. They are homes to fish, mussels, macro-invertebrates (water bugs) and plants, in addition to sustaining wildlife. There are two other stream characteristics that are a little less popular. If you live near one, you may be familiar with flooding and erosion.
When the water in streams go around a bend (a curve in the stream channel), most of the pressure pushes against the outside bank. This pressure picks up soil particles and carries them downstream. This process is called erosion. Erosion is a natural process that allows streams to meander (follow a winding course) and move slowly through the landscape. However, human activity has made these natural processes a little more destructive and a little less fish-habitat-friendly.
Structures like single and multi-log vanes, mud sills, and root wads mimic nature’s construction of fish habitat and hiding places from predators. These same structures also relieve pressure on the streambank from the passing water thereby reducing erosion.
Thanks to partnerships with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), the Warren County Conservation District has been able to take part in numerous streambank stabilization projects within the Brokenstraw Watershed to reduce erosion, and build fish habitat. In addition to installing in-stream structures, volunteers and environmental professionals have been able to plant a significant amount of streamside vegetation, called riparian buffers. Riparian buffers usually consist of a mix of trees and shrubs that are planted directly adjacent to stream channels at a width of about 35 feet. However, the wider you can make a riparian buffer, the better it is for the stream. The buffer provides wildlife habitat, filters rain water before it flows into the stream, and the roots hold the soil down, thereby providing another layer of protection from erosion.
Streams consist of more than just the water in the stream channel. They are an intricate system of water, plants, soil, animals, and human impact. These factors can work together to create a well-functioning system and viable habitat.
For more information about streams and riparian buffers, go to WPC’s website at waterlandlife.org/watershed-conservation or the Conservation District’s website at www.wcconservation.net/programs/water-quality/streambank-vegetation.
To learn more about in-stream structures, go to the PFBC website at https://www.fishandboat.com/Resource/Habitat/Pages/default.aspx (scroll down to Streams and Standard Drawings of Habitat Structures).