Taking Care of your Backyard Stream

Stream Stewardship: the idea that each and every one of us is responsible for the sensible use of streams that flow through our property.  If you do have a stream running through your yard, there are special steps you can take to be an effective stream steward.

Our Life at the Water's Edge series of factsheets provides streamside residents with the tools and knowledge they need to increase their land value, reduce erosion and flooding on their properties, and protect and improve the quality of the Chagrin River and Lake Erie.

  1. Introduction to Streamside Management
  2. How Streams Work
  3. Don’t Mow in the Riparian Zone
  4. Plant Cuttings to Stabilize your Stream
  5. Don’t Dump
  6. Enhance the Stream in Your Backyard and Beyond

Recommended Techniques for Stabilizing Eroding Streambanks:

How do I recognize a healthy stream?

More information for streamside landowners

From your backyard to your streams, we’re all connected.  Even if you don’t have a stream running through your yard, your actions on your property can have impacts on our waterways.  Making the connection between your yard and its downstream impact on our natural resources is critical for maintaining and improving the water quality of our streams.

Backyard Streams - Life at the Water's Edge

Our creeks, streams and lakes are a resource that should be protected as a source of natural beauty and recreation. In addition, our creeks, streams and areas surrounding them are an integral part of communities’ infrastructure as they 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.  

Practice Stream Stewardship:

  • Do not mow to the creek or stream edge.  Keep deep rooted vegetation along the banks to prevent erosion.
  • Plant native deep rooted plants along creek or stream bank (flowers, shrubs, or trees found in Ohio)
  • Never dump lawn waste such as grass clippings or leaves along stream banks as it will kill stream bank vegetation and cause more erosion. Instead setup your own composting bin.  See The Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Composting at Home
  • Never use heavy equipment (including riding mowers) within 10 feet of a creek or stream.  The weight of the equipment can lead to crumbling of the banks.
  • Leave some woody debris in the stream channel.  It can be moved to the banks to help stabilize them.
  • Keep structures at least 25 feet away from the stream bank, larger distances are recommend for larger streams. This distance will vary if your community implements a riparian setback regulation. Contact your community engineering, building, or zoning department to determine if your community has such zoning requirements.

Conventional methods should not be the first choice for solving backyard stream erosion.

 
 

Historically, creek and stream erosion solutions have involved conventional measures of placing hard materials like railroad ties, concrete or large stones (rip rap) on streambanks or building walls of wire baskets filled with stones (gabion baskets). Hard structures like gabion baskets are typically used when infrastructure such as utility lines, roads or buildings are endangered by the eroding stream.  Any in-stream work to install these hard structures requires an Ohio EPA 401 permit and a US Army Corps of Engineers permit.

While placing stone, 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. Long term monitoring of these erosion control methods in creeks and streams shows that they tend to aggravate problems instead of solve them. As water hits and deflects off the hard materials it moves faster and is more likely to erode downstream areas.
 
These structures, if installed incorrectly, may narrow the creek or stream, which increases the speed of the flow and causes more erosion. Hard structures also tend to require ongoing maintenance to correct instances where the hard materials are undermined and either peel away from the bank, or slump into the stream. Inappropriate solutions may cause more long-term damage than doing nothing at all.

Vegetation is the number one resource for protecting eroding stream banks.

A creek or stream with limited damage may be stabilized with vegetation. The banks are planted with deep rooted plants that can hold soil in place and can withstand flooding and fast moving water. Vegetation planted along the creek or stream can be extremely useful in controlling soil erosion, providing wildlife habitat and improving water quality.

Establish deep-rooted vegetation using native dormant shrub cuttings (stakes) on eroding stream banks to stabilize them.

Plant deep-rooted native shade trees, shrubs, tall grasses or green herbaceous plants on the upper section of the bank to prevent erosion.  Consider planting a strip of medium height native grass (2-3 feet tall) between the stream bank and lawn instead of mowing to the stream's edge. 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 or other soft materials that will soak up rain.

For directions on how and what dormant shrubs and vegetation to plant see Taking Care of your Backyard Stream in the box on the right. We recommended you consult with your local soil and water conservation district, stormwater utility, or watershed organization before starting a stream bank stabilization project.