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Stream Bank Repair with the Cumberland River Compact

April 25, 2023

by Caroline Hutchins

Is a stream on your property eroding into itself, especially after large rain events? Maybe the stream is getting wider and its banks steeper? Have you noticed you are losing land due to the erosion? If this sounds familiar, your stream bank may be in need of repair!

Tennessee is growing rapidly. More homes and larger hardscapes are being built, commercial areas are growing, and there is less green space to absorb rain and slow runoff. This is putting greater pressure on our waterways by increasing the amount of stormwater runoff they receive.  This results in higher stream velocity, which means more aggressive erosion. 

Excess sediment is a top pollutant in the Cumberland River Basin. It chokes out fish and beneficial insects and increases water treatment costs.

Stream bank erosion is oftentimes worsened by mowing to the edge of the stream. The trees, bushes, and grasses that occur along the edge of streams, known as the riparian zone, help to stabilize soil, filter pollutants, and manage rising water levels during heavy rainfall. When they are removed, our streams lose these important benefits. What may have once been easy access can, in time, turn into a costly safety issue as banks erode. If repair work isn’t done in time, an often expensive and intensive restoration job requiring heavy equipment and an engineering plan is needed to restore the stream.

Acting early before this happens is in the best interest of your land and your wallet!

What Is Stream Bank Repair?

Repairing a stream bank is an earth-friendly process that has four simple steps:

  1. Gently slope the banks back using manual hand tools.
  2. Seed native grasses and wildflowers. Cover the seeds in straw.
  3. Lay down a biodegradable coconut coir mat. 
  4. Install live stakes – cuttings from native tree species that will root out and anchor your soil.. 

This process returns the stream bank to the natural state Mother Nature desires.

What Are the Benefits?

Stream bank erosion can cause problems for you, your neighbors, and people downstream. When a stream bank erodes, you lose land. The land washes downstream as sediment. 

Repairing your stream has myriad benefits:

  • Deep rooted plants reduce erosion, meaning the acreage you own is maintained.
  • Flowering plants and pollinator habitat add aesthetic value to your property.
  • Plant buffers reduce noise. 
  • Root systems mitigate pollution runoff including sediment, fertilizer, pesticides, and petroleum products.
  • A riparian buffer costs less to maintain than turf. No mowing, watering, or fertilizing required!
  • Buffers cool stormwater runoff heated by sunlight on hard surfaces before it enters waterways, benefitting aquatic species. Riparian buffers also provide shade to the stream, regulating in-stream temperatures.
  • Buffers provide habitat for many types of beloved wildlife, including butterflies, hummingbirds, frogs, and dragonflies.

What Streams Qualify for Bank Repair?

The ideal stream will share the following characteristics:

  • Isn’t prone to flash flooding.
  • 100’ or less to be repaired.
  • No utility easements.
  • No preexisting forms of erosion control such as rock gabions or riprap.
  • 3’ or less of erosion.
  • No existing riparian buffer.

Streams with erosion issues beyond what is stated here necessitate a restoration plan that requires more extensive engineering designs and permit approvals.

 

Ways the Cumberland River Compact Can Help

The Cumberland River Compact can connect you with local contractors trained to do bank stabilization, help you host a volunteer day, or set you up with our Field Team trained in simple live staking stabilization techniques. Please email caroline.hutchins@cumberlandrivercompact.org to learn more.

Use this form if you have noticed a stream in need of repair on public land that could qualify for stream bank repair. The Cumberland River Compact will review the site and share potential sites with our list of individuals certified in stream bank repair. Please take some time to fill out this form with as much information as you can.

Submit Your Stream

 

To be considered, please see the criteria above and email photos to caroline.hutchins@cumberlandrivercompact.org.

Contacts Certified by the Compact in Minor Stream Bank Repair

Certified Stream Bank Repair Professionals List

This list of people has been certified by the Cumberland River Compact in minor stream bank repair. Their certification indicates the completion of 10 hours of classroom and field instruction in stream bank repair techniques and a passing score on a written test.

Workshop attendees have learned how to protect and improve the natural environment of streams by stabilizing the stream bank and other eroding areas. Experts from North Carolina State University and the Cumberland River Compact have provided them with practical, cost-effective solutions using natural materials and native plants to create a healthy streamside. They have received hands-on experience, including installing live-stakes on a stream.

Are Permits Required to Repair My Stream Bank Site?

Permitting may be necessary under certain circumstances, and regulations can vary from city to city. We recommend contacting TDEC and your local municipality  to be clear on whether or not a permit is required for the work you wish to do. 

Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit (ARAP)

When applying for ARAP permits, you may need to coordinate with the Tennessee Division of Natural Areas (DNA) and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to make sure your project does not impact sensitive species. If any species are identified in your project area, ARAPs will not be approved until you have coordinated with both agencies. 

Tennessee Division of Natural Areas – Environmental Review Page

TWRA is currently dividing ARAP permit responsibilities between regional Aquatic Habitat Protection Biologists.

Region 1: Allen Pyburn, allen.pyburn@tn.gov

Region 2: Katie Murphy, katie.m.murphy@tn.gov

Region 3: Bobby Brown, bobby.brown@tn.gov

Region 4: Rob Lindbom, dennis.lindbom@tn.gov

Resources for Land Stewards and Bank Repair Professionals

Funding Sources for Stream Bank Repair

General

Small Scale Solution for Eroding Stream Banks

Small Scale Stream Bank Repair (Video)

A Field Guide for the Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests

Plant Materials

We recommend you seek out a local nursery that sells native, ecoregion specific cultivars.

Roundstone Seed

Mellow Marsh Farm

Foggy Mountain Nursery

Non-Plant Materials

Stephen’s Seed & Supply Inc.

Home Depot

Terrain Civil

Marketing Materials for Contractors

Use these photos from our workshop to explain and promote your bank repair services. 

Water and Habitat Quality

How’s My Waterway (EPA)

TDEC DWR – Water Quality Viewer

TN Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook (2015)

City of Murfreesboro Water Quality Protection Areas (WQPA)

Streamside Buffers (Murfreesboro) 

Watershed Characteristics 

WikiWatershed – Model My Watershed (Check out their other tools) ○ USGS StreamStats 

TN Ecoregion Map (USGS) 

City of Murfreesboro Dye Tracing Map 

 

Floodplain and Parcel Information 

Fema Floodplain and FIRM Maps 

Murfreesboro Parcel Viewer 

Nashville Parcel Viewer 

Nashville Floodplain Map 

TN Property Viewer 

 

Other useful tools 

Google Earth Pro 

QGIS 

Tennessee Hydrological Determination Course

 

 

Author Biography

Caroline Hutchins is the Working Lands Program Manager at the Cumberland River Compact. She manages our River Friendly Farms program, a certification program that educates and recognizes farm practices that promote soil and water health. She also spearheads our Abandoned Minelands work, a program that reforests and revitalizes formerly mined land in the Appalachian region of the Cumberland River Basin. Caroline earned her B.A. from Northeastern University and went on to work and manage organic farms from the West Coast to just outside of Nashville. She enjoys growing her own food, camping and hiking whenever possible, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and rescue pitbull.