hanging the course of a river to enhance water quality and improve aquatic habitat is an admirable accomplishment. Educating planners and engineers about the logistics of achieving such a stream restoration feat shifts the paradigm a bit: It broadens impact.
“This is the largest stream restoration project in North Carolina,” says Dani Wise-Frederick, lead project coordinator for the N.C. Stream Restoration Institute’s recently completed work with the East Prong Roaring River in Stone Mountain State Park. “In this case, we are actually restoring a stream to its prior stable form. The stream has been re-meandered on its original floodplain.”
The Stream Restoration Institute is an umbrella organization that includes both research and Cooperative Extension water quality professionals.
The $1 million project, funded by the state Division of Water Quality’s Wetlands Restoration Program, will reduce erosion from stream banks, improve fish habitat and increase overall biodiversity for the area. But, just as important, the project will serve as an outdoor laboratory that helps inform the environmental community about the field of stream restoration.
Sediment, the No. 1 pollutant in all of North Carolina’s waterways, was plaguing one of the most popular trout fishing areas in the state. Through the years, the natural path of the East Prong Roaring River had been altered for agricultural and gravel mining purposes. This course change, consequently, made the river banks very unstable, and they began eroding into the river at an accelerated rate. Now scientists, planners and engineers have re-established the pathway Mother Nature intended for the river to take.
This new pathway, however, is but one part of the restoration process.
In-stream structures such as rock vanes and root wads have been put into place. Strategic vegetation placement along the river banks, coupled with the removal of invasive plants, has also been a part of the project. The end result is a better river — faster.
Most agencies would have been content to call the project a success at this point. Changing the course of a river to improve water quality and therefore its biology is a sound achievement. Cooperative Extension, however, sought an even higher plane. Through its Stream Restoration Institute, Extension has pledged to maximize the learning opportunities such a site can offer.
“This project represents how a project can and should be done correctly,” says Dr. Greg Jennings, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering. “We have worked with the Wetlands Restoration Program to ensure that the project has research and education value. We are in the midst of a series of workshops that answer the important questions about the nuts and bolts of implementing this type of science.”
Each workshop in the series targets a specific aspect of stream restoration. The workshops are designed to meet the education needs of the key people involved in stream restoration: construction contractors, environmental consultants, designers and permit review agencies. To ensure quality interaction and avoid unnecessary travel expense for the participants, the workshops are limited to 25 people and are held in one day.
The series began in September with a focus on stream restoration construction techniques. The first workshop provided an overview of the design process and included field demonstrations of construction techniques. Participants learned about boulder placement for rock vanes and the specifics of sediment and erosion control measures, such as the use of root wads and their effect on water movement.
The second series of workshops will target the vegetation used in these types of projects. The series also includes information on monitoring and how to evaluate successful riparian vegetation and stream restoration projects. The final series of workshops for this winter will offer hands-on experience in biological, geomorphological and hydrological monitoring techniques.
Wise-Frederick says that
in addition to the educational potential this project possesses, another
important feature is the partnerships involved. “The people from both
the Division of Parks and Recreation and the Wetlands Restoration Program
have really made a meaningful difference with how smoothly this project
has progressed. They have been wonderful collaborators from the beginning.”