Control Stream Erosion

How to control steam erosion, the negative aspects of streams, understanding stream erosion, solving siltation, proper vegetation, and methods used to solve stream erosion.

| May/June 1986

Last issue we told you how to combat erosion on your land. This sequel shows how you can control stream erosion. 

A "well-behaved" brook can produce energy; water for crops, livestock, or people; and fish for food and recreation. A degraded one, on the other hand, detracts from the appearance of its surroundings and — during and just after a flood — can endanger life and property, as well as absconding with chunks of irreplaceable soil.

How to Control Stream Erosion

Floods and massive soil erosion naturally bring to mind another virtue of a well-mannered stream: its ability to carry excess water off the land in an orderly fashion. A stream, however, isn't the only thing that can perform that function. There's that human invention known as a ditch. Far too often, when a stream fails to dispose of its load of water efficiently, we tend to think of it as a malfunctioning ditch. We even discipline rowdy streams into monotonous canals through the process called channelization: straightening and deepening the streambed and removing all obstructions to flow.

This often "works" in controlling the flooding and erosion — if you don't care about fish, wildlife, aesthetics, or recreation, and if you can justify dumping your problem on people downstream.

You can stop streams from flooding or changing course over the years without resorting to heroic engineering feats. You can also prevent changes in course and water level from occurring so abruptly that the carrying capacity of the land — for everything from wildlife to agriculture to housing — is reduced with each rain.

A Stream Great or Small?

Whatever the size of your stream — and the scale of your project — the same basic principle applies. The main thing is to understand the interactions between the flowing water and the solid objects it confronts. And so (assuming that your house isn't in danger of washing away after the next rain), the first rule to consider is look before you touch.

Joshua Simiskey
3/16/2011 3:55:35 PM

I have a med-lg sized creek, which is cut 6' deep. In the coming spring I expect it to fill to the top. Erosion is immense. I have been considering an earthbag style canal,which I believe could be made to look very natural but have not seen any information on whether this would work. The earth bags could be arranged with vegetation and even enhance the natural beauty and wildlife habitat. My concerns are for the bags withstanding the elements and for stability. Most of the year there is only about 1 1/2'-2' of water.

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