The Watershed Solution Center both originates and partners on projects every year.
In doing so, we help to empower other organizations to make big impacts on a watershed basis.

Streambank Stabilization and Riparian Buffers

Streambank vegetation is extremely important for the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the stream ecosystem. Clearing stream banks of trees, shrubs, and other vegetation can leave the waterway vulnerable to pollution and damage from erosion and runoff. Erosion is a natural process that deepens the streambed and causes it to meander over time. However, excess erosion can cause stream banks to collapse and the stream channel to be clogged with sediment, destroying habitat for important stream taxa such as fish and benthic macroinvertebrates. Human activities such as the clearing of natural vegetation by landowners, urbanization or development, the construction of impervious surfaces (roads, buildings, drainage ditches, etc.), and agricultural practices (grazing, plowing) can exacerbate and accelerate erosion problems within a watershed. Streambank vegetation is also important for controlling runoff, the draining of water from the rest of the watershed into the stream. This water carries with it pollutants and excess nutrients from the landscape, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers that can cause eutrophication, salts and chemicals from roads, and sediment from construction sites.

Changes to the rate of erosion and runoff can cause cascading effects throughout a stream ecosystem, degrading and reducing suitable habitat for aquatic organisms and reducing water quality. Streams are complex and sensitive ecosystems that respond to a wide variety of factors such as habitat structure, flow regime, changing energy sources, and biotic factors, and changes to one aspect of the ecosystem can influence many other variables.

How can we prevent excessive erosion and runoff?

One way to prevent excessive erosion is through streambank stabilization. Streambank stabilization projects will vary from site to site based on the conditions of the stream. In some cases, simply allowing vegetation to regrow instead of mowing it will serve to stabilize the streambank. These projects can also provide landowners the opportunity to encourage the establishment and growth of native vegetation. In other cases, a more involved approach is necessary such as actively planting native, deep-rooting vegetation or even bioengineering. The roots of these plants can help to hold the soil together and prevent it from being carried away by strong currents while providing habitat for native wildlife that interacts with the aquatic ecosystem.
Runoff can be controlled through the establishment of a riparian buffer. Well-established riparian buffers serve as filters that prevent contaminants from entering the stream ecosystem and reduce erosion. They are also an integral part of the stream community, as they create a cooler microclimate through shading and transpiration, provide an input of organic material and food such as leaves and terrestrial insects, and provide fallen trees and tree limbs that create habitat for fish and other organisms. A healthy riparian zone will have native vegetation at all structural levels (grasses, shrubs, and trees).

Acid Mine Drainage

Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) is water that has been contaminated as a result of historic coal mining. Before 1977, laws concerning coal mining operations were relaxed, allowing mining corporations to simply declare bankruptcy abandon coal mines once the coal reserves were exhausted, leaving no one who was legally obligated to clean up the mess. These abandoned mines are still a major source of toxic chemicals that seep into our waterways. Common problems caused by AMD can include:

Low pH (high acidity)
High metal concentrations such as iron, aluminum, and manganese
Elevated sulfate levels
Suspended solids and/or siltation

All of these problems degrade the quality of the water and reduce the suitability of habitat, leading to devastating consequences for aquatic life. Dissolved and precipitated metals are toxic to life, especially when combined with the low pH commonly caused by AMD, while metals in the water can smother fish and macroinvertebrate eggs, coat stream bottoms, and clog gills.

AMD also causes economic damage through losses to property values, recreational potential, and treatment costs and contaminates drinking water resources.