Groups work to stabilize Elk River stream bank

The Elk River Basin is an ecologically significant drainage in southwest Missouri. 

Unfortunately, like other river basins in the state, stream bank erosion impacts its waters, resulting in sedimentation and nutrient pollution, loss of in-stream habitat, and degradation of water quality and recreation opportunities for local communities. 

At a site on the lower end of Elk River in Noel, Mo., in McDonald County, stream bank erosion has resulted in around 7.5 acres of land, totaling 170,000 tons of soil lost in the past 20 years. 

The Nature Conservancy of Missouri along with several local landowners and support by Tyson Foods Inc., and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, stabilized the 1,650 feet eroding stream bank by implementing sophisticated engineering and nature-based approaches to stream management to stop the erosion, enhance the habitat for fish and wildlife, and improve downstream recreational benefit. 

“This is the largest site I’ve worked on and it has been a real problem here for the past 20 years,” said Steve Herrington, Missouri’s Director of Freshwater Conservation.

Josh Duzan, project manager with Natural State Streams, LLC., built and designed the plan of stabilization for this stream. 

“I specialize in stream bank stabilization with natural materials and try to make them look as natural as possibly, which is what we did here,” said Duzan. 

According to the landowners in the area, there were no trees on the property and that may have been causing some of the eroding problem. 

“Some symptoms of erosion are tall banks with a wall of 90 degrees, lack of vegetation, no surface protection, and a difference in stream bank heights,” said Herrington. 

This piece of property fit the bill for all the symptoms and something needed to be done, before it started washing away more land.

“This was definitely a site we thought we could help stabilize,” said Herrington. “We wanted to make sure the engineering replicated places that have stood and thrived.”

To do that, they needed a lot of vegetation. Bio-engineering was a big part in the stabilization of the stream bank.

“We needed lots of big things and plants to help and we incorporated that into the plan,” said Herrington. 

“We moved over 40,000 cubic yards of gravel and installed 6,000 tons of rock and over 120 hardwood trees with root wads during construction to restore and protect this stream bank,” said Duzan. 

“After years of planning it’s exciting to see everything come together.”

The angle of the bank and the bank height was also addressed to lessen the impact of flooding. 

Plant-based bioengineering was used to ensure long-term stability and ecological function, including live brush layering on top of the boulder/tree root wad toe with 50,000 native tree live-cuttings for ensuring deep-rooted vegetation in the stream bank itself. 

Hundreds of pounds of native seed for rapid and long-term herbaceous growth was also planted and 1,250 potted native trees were planted in the constricted floodplain, and heavy fiber-based erosion control blankets for stopping erosion, resisting sheer stress, and facilitating seed growth.

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The trees were planted at the end of February and about 200 of the rooted trees that were planted washed away after the third flood. 

“We knew stuff was going to come at us which is why we chose the design we did, so we don’t have to worry as much,” said Herrington. 

“We created an area that can flood over. All the things we planted are already creating root structure, which is key for withstanding floods.”

They laid a foundation first — top soil, live brush, then fabric, more soil, and then more fabric. For now the temporary seed mix that was spread is creating root structure, but after a year the native seeds will take over and really lock in that structure, according to Herrington. 

He also said the fabric is supposed to last 3-4 years before degrading. This process is done nationwide through companies and organizations, as well as by landowners. 

“There is funding available for landowners to do something on their own stream bank,” said Herrington. 

To do something inside the waterway one would need a permit, and the Department of Natural Resources and the Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District, issue the permits. 

According to Herrington, the key to be stable and successful is “rocks for surface protection, and lots of vegetation to provide shielding.”

For this stream bank, it was about $300 per foot with natural materials, and would cost less to do it on a smaller scale. 

“You could do this on your own stream bank for way less, at around $50 per foot using natural materials you already have,” said Herrington. 

“We were able to harvest several willows for this project on-site and that helped out.”

The materials bought and used for this stream bank can be bought and used by individuals in addition to using already-owned materials. 

According to Herrington, this was a very risky site and they wanted to make sure it was done right. 

“This was not the first time to stabilize this bank,” said Duzan. “The landowner paid to have some work done and it was wasted with the first flood that came because it just wasn’t enough.” 

Overall, for someone to do this to their own stream bank, more vegetation is key. 

The total cost for the project was $652,000. The total cost included the design for $89,000, the construction for $542,000, and the five years’ monitoring for $21,000. 

The funding support was provided by Tyson Food, Inc., the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and private landowners. 

The construction started in December 2017 and ended in February.

“We are very happy with how it turned out and can’t wait to see how well it stands with time,” said Herrington. 

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