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Backyard streams

Our creeks, streams and lakes should be protected as a source of natural beauty and recreation. Creeks and streams, and areas surrounding them, are an integral part of our community—they also assist in managing pollutants and flooding.

Creeks and streams can suffer from erosion problems leading to homeowner troubles. Depending on the severity of the problem, there are numerous ways to reduce the erosion.

Historically, creek and stream erosion solutions have involved conventional measures such as dumping specifically sized stones (rip rap) and building walls of wire baskets filled with stones (gabion baskets).

Long term monitoring of creeks and streams using these erosion control methods shows that instead of solving the problem, they aggravate it.

While placing stone rip rap, railroad ties, or concrete on an eroding stream bank may appear to solve the problem, these practices often fail because they do not stabilize the bank properly. Water flowing near the rip-rap generally moves fast and there is often turbulence near the bank. As water hits and deflects off the rip rap it gains velocity and is more likely to erode adjacent unprotected areas. Rip rap also tends to require ongoing maintenance to correct instances where the rock is being undermined and either peeling away from the bank, or slumping into the stream. These methods transfer and sometimes amplify this energy to the next section of unprotected stream bank, creating a new set of problems, and usually causes increased erosion around and downstream of the hard materials. These structures, if installed incorrectly, may narrow the creek or stream, which increases the speed of the flow, further increasing erosion. Inappropriate solutions may cause more long-term damage than doing nothing at all. Any in-stream work to install these hard structures requires US Army Corp of Engineers and Ohio EPA permits.

Hard structures such a gabion baskets are typically used when infrastructure, such as utility lines, roads or buildings are endangered by the eroding stream. Use the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Stream Management Guide – Gabion Baskets for design and installation guidelines. In addition, contact your community and US Army Corp of Engineers and Ohio EPA about necessary permits.

Use a vegetative bank instead

vegetative stream bank restoration

Vegetation is the best resource for protecting eroding stream banks. A creek or stream with limited damage may be stabilized with select plantings. The banks are planted with deep rooted plants that can hold soil in place and can withstand flooding and high-velocity water. Vegetation planted along the creek or stream can be extremely useful in controlling soil erosion, providing wildlife habitat and improving water quality. One way to establish vegetation is through the use of dormant, woody stakes and posts to stabilize the banks and bare-root or transplanted trees can be used on top of the banks.

The upper section of the bank should also be planted with deep-rooted vegetation to prevent erosion. Plants may include native shade trees, shrubs, tall grasses or green herbaceous plants. For a more formal look, plant a strip of medium height native grass (2-3 feet) between the creek bank and lawn. When mowing the lawn add a design by mowing a curve along the lawn and planted area. Add color to the edge of the planted area with flowering plants. To view the stream, cut or mow view corridors, and/or make a pathway corridor to the stream. Use wood chips other soft materials that will soak up rain.

For directions on how and what dormant shrubs and vegetation to plant, see the following resources. It is recommended that you consult with your local soil and water conservation district, stormwater utility, or watershed organization before starting a stream bank stabilization project. See the Resource List for contact information.

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