Some general guidance on stream cleanup

Some general guidance on stream cleanup

After our June storms, it was a roller-coaster of emotions that I know I wasn’t alone in feeling: the jaw-dropping shock at the amount of damage balanced by the heart-warming stories of neighbors and communities working to help one another, the awe at the power of the rain and wind coupled with amazement of how few casualties and overall damage we escaped. Once we could all sit back and take a little break from the urgency of the situation, we’re faced with the big question: Now what?

The cleanup work is continuing, but the most accessible and “easiest” projects have been tackled first. What remains is likely to be the hardest areas to reach, and that includes streams with fallen tops. These pose a threat as soon as heavy rains hit, and the power of the stream will begin to move and consolidate areas of debris that has entered the stream. If you are motivated to begin work to get debris cleared from a creek, there a few things to keep in mind before and during the process.

Not all debris is bad

The definition of a logjam is any woody vegetation, with or without other debris, which obstructs a stream channel and creates a backwater condition. In-stream, woody vegetation is crucial for stream habitats for fish and other aquatic species and helps reduce the erosive power of a stream if it is securely attached or anchored to the bank. As long as it doesn’t impede flow or cause safety concerns, woody debris should be left alone.

Once a tree, limb or other debris cuts loose from its anchor point, it causes the potential for harm to bridges and culverts or to cause backwater conditions that can undercut banks and allow them to fall in. That kind of debris should be tackled, but carefully.

Be safe

Safety is of the utmost importance when tackling in-stream debris. We are in our drier months of the year, so this is a good time to consider getting tops out of the creek. However, pulling debris from the channel must occur from the bank and disturb as little of the stream bed as possible. Trained, experienced sawyers and equipment operators should be the ones attempting this work, using chains, winches and/or long-arm backhoes to pull the debris from the stream.

Minimize sediment
disturbance, release

Do not scoop sediments, either from the stream bed or the banks. Do not enter the stream channel with equipment. If it is your intent or preferred method for dealing with the debris in this fashion, an EPA, Army Corps and/or Holmes County Floodplain permit may be required. If you have questions about how to approach your cleanup project, contact our office.

Remove debris from floodplain

If you are going to the work to clear the channel, you will defeat your progress — and your downstream neighbors — if you leave the material on the banks. This will be picked up during the next time it floods, and now that the debris is smaller and unstable, it will be exactly the kind of trash that causes damaging logjams. Additionally, the creation of dikes, whether by bringing sediment onto the bank or leaving piles of removed debris, channels the water harder and faster onto downstream properties, worsening the erosion effects and flooding potential.

Emergency forestry
funds sought

For those who may need financial assistance to tackle cleanup after the storm, there is a possibility a USDA emergency funding program will be made available. The Emergency Forestry Restoration Program offers cost-share assistance up to 75% for Limited Resource producers and 50% for other producers assisting on debris cleanup and reseeding per the forestry plan developed by the forester.

This isn’t a program that is normally offered around here, so the details are still forthcoming, but the first major requirement is you can not have done work on the area you are requesting assistance on. Area service forester John Joliff will need to do a site assessment and submit the current condition to the office before work can begin.

Call the Holmes FSA Office at 330-674-2066 if you think you might be interested in the program and to begin the application process. There will be a short window of time to sign up once it is confirmed they can offer the funding, so stay tuned for more information.

Starting over

If you lost trees to the storm, we have already placed an extensive tree order with our nursery supplier for our spring tree sale. We will have a larger variety of species and sizes to aid in restoring our Holmes County tree cover. Keep your eyes out for more information regarding our tree sale and start your site preparation and tree-planting plans now.

Holmes SWCD’s Karen Gotter is the watershed coordinator for Killbuck Creek.

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