Watershed group teaches stability through nature, Soque River Association offers land owners lessons in battling stream erosion (January 29, 2011)Read Now
John and Emily Smith of Baldwin take a closer look at the streambank restoration site of Rocky Branch at the Clarkesville Greenway during a tour Saturday. The Smiths recently purchased agricultural land with eroded streambanks. They participated in the tour in order to learn how to repair the eroded banks. By SARA GUEVARA
By Erin Rossiter
POSTED: January 29, 2011
Alice Roseman knows it's just water. Still, her voice flows with despair when she speaks of the stream on her small Habersham County farm.
Roseman feels as though her land is under fire. Erosion is the primary aggressor.
"I think everyone wants to do the right thing," she said. "But they need to educate people on how to do it."
Since moving to the property in 2003, Roseman has watched the steady decline of the channel that cuts through her 6-acre farm. She has considered refortifying the banks with chicken wire, concrete and river rocks.
But making a wrong decision has her second guessing every step.
Roseman, 70, fears more government meddling in her life and property.
"The more I cried (to the county about this problem) the more frustrated they got, because they didn't have the answers," she said. "Right now, I'm afraid to do anything."
On Saturday morning, Roseman joined nearly 30 people who arrived to Old Clarkesville Mill for guidance on stream erosion, a problem most seemed to share as land owners.
Sponsored by the Soque River Watershed Association, the educational lesson featured a tour of properties in the organization's Habersham County focus area. Each place showcased a different look at erosion and repair.
All solutions hinged around copying nature, said Justin Ellis, who led the tour as director of the association.
"Nature is a great teacher for stability. You see that in all types of ecosystems," Ellis said. "Natural streams don't degrade in an undisturbed state. (So we need to) learn the principles of what makes a natural stream stable and apply that to the streams we're managing."
Calls from frustrated property owners like Roseman are among the most common his office fields, Ellis said.
Explaining the overall concept of "natural channel design" takes root quickly.
But relaying specifics on how exactly to engineer nature back into streams impacted by unnatural water flow can seem overwhelming.
Geography, sediment types, former and current land-use, natural ecology and water quality are all studied before planning any kind of natural restoration, Ellis explained to the group.
"We're kind of taught when you see a bank eroding, you put a bunch of rocks on it," he said. "At (one) time, that's what we thought was the best thing to do. ... We've learned mimicking nature is actually a better long-term solution and actually costs less in the longer term."
In Georgia, this method of restoring streams started in Habersham County in 1998, Ellis said, when land owner Justin Savage began improving a 1,300-foot section of the Soque River.
The method has grown over more than a decade, with a number of streams being improved this way, including grant-funded projects in Hall County, Ellis said. He added that many environmental firms know how to rebuild streams this way, too, for land owners who are willing to pay.
To assist Habersham County citizens directly, the association formed its Soque River Watershed Partnership. In addition to consulting work, the partnership secured a grant to manage its first restoration project with cooperating land owner Lamar Whiting.
"We feel like it's our obligation to be somewhat of a regional hub for information on sustainability and managing nature resources in a sustainable way," Ellis said. "I don't think it happens in a one-day tour, but I think even the skeptics can come around after seeing a few of them."
Whiting counted himself as one of those skeptics and described his reaction as "reluctant" when the partnership proposed restoring his stream, a tributary of Yellowbank Creek.
"I wanted to have as much information as possible," Whiting said.
His land, which includes a 60-plus-acre cow pasture, abuts Ga. Highway 115. A culvert guides water from one side of the busy road to Whiting's property. During periodic rain floods, the strength of flow is so great the water digs into his stream's earthy embankment.
Whiting planned to rebuild the bank himself with large concrete chunks.
But the SRWA and its partnership, led by Ellis, asked Whiting to consider the natural alternative.
It took three months of studying surveys and detailed plans before Whiting agreed. He has also welcomed experts, students and a number of visitors onto his property from various agencies, states and institutions, including the University of Georgia. Work begins this spring.
"If it would be an improvement to our property, we decided to go with it," Whiting said.
A 40-year resident on the family farm, he hopes the stream solution will last the rest of his lifetime and then some.
"They're trying to help me do more of a project than I planned to do," Whiting said. "We'll see what happens."