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Creek repair - brush dams  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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This morning we started on a huge project that we've been wanting to do for years but other things got in the way. We have this very eroded seasonal creek - actually the meeting of two seasonal creeks - on our land, which we hope to repair by de-energizing the water with brush dams and eventually hope organic material will accumulate and plants will grow throughout the area. Here are some photos of the part of the creek we're starting on, as far up the lower creek as we can go before we get to the neighbors' place:







We'll be removing the excess Ashe Juniper trees to let light in so grass can regrow, and cramming the channel with as many branches as we can put in there, following the model in these videos:





More photos later as the dams are built!
 
pollinator
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Tyler : There have been quite a few discussions about Maintaining streams and improving them to make them a more natural ( whatever that is !) Habitat for Beaver

Here at Permies. A search should add lots of information for your project. The single most important rule I have discovered is Direct contact with the stream beds

bottom.Brush can work if you have enough of it and place logs/dead timber or Large rocks on it to hold it down firmly to the bottom - otherwise the stream can just

cut deeper underneath -and all your work in that section is lost !

With Christmas coming up you can go door to door between Thanksgiving and Christmas offering to pick-up and dispose of all X-mass trees and Hanukah -bushes .

As some people like to have a the tree until Christmas day and then out the door with it, and some set the tree up Christmas Eve and keep it until New Years- You

Will get a wide range of pick-up dates and '' several bites at the apple '' !

Again with proper placement and lots of brush I whave seen farmers and hunting clubs and even a high school Students have good luck with this technique !

For the Crafts ! Big AL
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks for that reminder about the undercutting, Al! Regarding beaver - this creek is so ephemeral I doubt we could make it attractive for the tiny population who may survive in this region.

 
allen lumley
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- Plant cottonwood, beyond that its in the hands of the gods ! Big AL
 
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Central Texas ,dry creek,except whenever it rains I would consider were the water would go before I changed to much.
but willow in the creek will slow it and lay over when it did flood and return up when it was over kinda even when it lays down and stays it will keep growing
 
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Use those rocks too!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks for these suggestions. We'll have to get some moisture to stay in the creek before we can plant anything. And yes, we're definitely keeping in mind what the water might do when it is slowed with these dams. The channel is quite deep, so there's little chance of floodwaters moving to a place where they can damage structures, except downstream where periodically the flooding creek has taken out our driveway. We just got the driveway rebuilt, so we're hoping to get enough of these dams built to slow the water before there's another big flood like the one this Spring. We aren't intending to stop the water, just slow it some.
 
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Over arching vegetation is often important for maintaining water temperature. Creeks exposed to direct sunlight, can become too warm for many species. Dissolved oxygen levels drop with temperature rise.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm hoping with the increased moisture held by the brush dams and trapped organic material, we can get some trees growing down there that are more diverse than the nearly solid stand of Ashe Juniper which blocks off almost all sunlight. Solid "Cedar" stands like this tend to turn an area to desert, which then erodes to bedrock with our flash floods. We threw some Osage Orange fruits down in the first brushpile, and we'll keep throwing things in there as we work.

This will never develop as a constant creek unless all our upstream neighbors implement permaculture, and at this time they tend to do the opposite, clearing everything off and burning it in huge smoky piles. And then overgrazing down to rocks. It's possible if we're successful enough with our efforts we might get some springs coming out at the lowest end of the creek, or a little trickle in the creekbed. I think the longest it has run, in the wettest years, is about 6 weeks.
 
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We have a bunch of degraded-creek ravines that I mean to improve, starting with brush dams and such, as soon as I can find the energy. They tend like yours to be heavily shaded, but at least the banks are mixed hardwoods (predominantly oak and osage orange). The trouble with these ravines is that they are deep square notches all the way to bedrock, as much as 20 feet deep in places. Just getting into and out of them is a challenge. And there's a lot of old garbage and rubble that people have thrown down into them in the past.

One thing that I plan to do (making a virtue out of necessity) is use some of the old tires that are already down there to make gabion-like structures. Stacked and filled with rocks and soil, I think they'll make nice anchors for brush dams and/or secure planters for willow trees.

There's also a lot of fallen trees (some quite huge) in and across the ravine. I don't currently own enough saw to cut them up, but I'm thinking they'll make very solid water-slowing structures if I can get them reduced in length and wedged crosswise between the banks.

I'm convinced the long-term solution is beaver, and these ravines are tributary to a large creek that does support a small beaver population. So my mid-term goal is to open out the hardwood canopy a bit and get more willows and similar beaver-browse trees growing on the banks. I can't build or maintain dams tall enough to really fix these degraded watercourses, but a healthy beaver colony sure could!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Dan, do you think the ravine developed during a period of especially low beaver populations?

Our erosion developed because of decades of overgrazing and Cedar proliferation. The climax vegetation for this bit of land used to be tall and mid-grass prairie, and there used to be many more creeks and springs in the area which ran all year. Now most are only seasonal. This could all be repaired, of course, if folks wanted to do it. But they don't seem to want to or they don't understand how; last week I actually saw people clearing grass from a creek channel, using line trimmers. I guess they thought the grass looked messy.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Second day working on the first brush dam and I think we've got at least a couple thousand pounds of branches in the gully. We're supposed to get some rain this weekend, so we might get feedback on the dam as early as Monday morning. Pretty exciting!

 
Dan Boone
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Dan, do you think the ravine developed during a period of especially low beaver populations?

Our erosion developed because of decades of overgrazing and Cedar proliferation.



This area of Oklahoma has been all grazing/haying/ranching since the dustbowl in the 1930s, and the ranchers around here used to be (probably still are) pretty hard on beavers. When beaver ponds are taking up valuable hay land, the beaver don't survive. But they have never been completely eradicated as bank beavers from the streams and rivers. I have fresh beaver sign to indicate that at least one juvenile traveled up my ravines this spring, during a period of relative flood. But I had no habitat that tempted them to settle. That's what I feel the need to fix. If I build it, they will come!

As for the ravine development, I directly blame a few decades of careless grazing management by a nearby rancher who held the grazing lease between 1970 and 2000 or thereabouts. He brush-hogged right to the edge of the ravines and let his cattle graze the land down to dirt during the dry times of year. Then when the rains would come, the water would run off in a sheet flood, taking lots of soil with it and cutting the creek into a ravine. His first stock pond is now a perched dry bowl beside the main ravine; the bottom of that former pond is six or eight feet above current stream levels. My wife remembers playing around that pond as a child, and swears that back then the then-creek ran beside and above the stock pond, filling it many feet deep by gravity feed.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Heartbreaking story about the pond, Dan. Such a huge amount of damage in a relative short period of time. It's easy to see how ignorant behavior can cause deserts.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's the brush dam from the top. It's about 25 feet long by 6 - 8 feet wide by about four feet high.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Finished this brush dam completely across the channel. This part is only about 2-3 feet high:



 
Tyler Ludens
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We got a good rain storm last night, the first little test of our brush damming.

Water behind the first brush dam:



The third brush dam, in a small gully uphill from the main creek channel:



Water flowing in the creek about 600 feet downstream from where we've been damming. When this runs clear we'll know we've achieved our goal:

 
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All this talk of dams and beavers made me think of this book which is super inspiring towards your ends. Don't be turned off by the title: Three Against the Wilderness by Eric Collier.

The author and his half native wife head up to her families traditional trapping territory to homestead in South Central British Columbia, an area that has suffered from similar problems to yours, though colder in the winter, and more forested. The creeks were largely dry, and were heavily ranched. They built dams in the upper headwaters, and slowly rebuilt the watershed, and the animals returned in abundance. A regional forest ranger heard about their project, came to visit, and years later had some 'extra' beavers from a park delivered to help maintain the projects. It's an amazing book.

In regards to the brush dams: Awesome work Tyler. It must feel great to get on a project that has been on the mind for a while.

I built some loose stone gambions and very similar brush dams on a project in Southern Arizona. The upper reaches of the property had already been dammed up and the built sediments were holding a great deal of residual moisture from flash events. Vegetation was planted, directly in the wash bed and on the sides. Prickly pear was cultivated in swales nearby and some of them were tossed into the project as well.


I have had great success with loose stone gambions on my small (but thankfully perennially flowing) creek. The build up of silt, clay, sand, and larger aggregates, as well as organic matter has been beyond expectations. My water table is rising, and thus my gardens will better able to withstand future drier times. I have shown the downstream neighbor all the built up sediments in the gambion areas. They were surprised to see the amount of sediment behind my tallest gambion (about 3 feet of sediment risen in a year!) That's a lot less stuff that can end up clogging their water intake, and harming their pump.

They have to pump water up the ridge to their house. I have tentatively offered for them to have an easement to dig a water line on my property into their own to their ridge and to T a line off of my proposed water system, but they are undecided. When the power goes out, their pump stops and they have no water. The power goes out a few times a winter here, and sometimes even in the summer.
If they did decide to get involved with my water system, this would allow me to play beaver at my leisure since the next people after them down the creek don't seem to be bothered by my manipulations.

I am contemplating jamming willows into the creek in a few places to aid in the project. More just a matter of getting on it.

Good luck with your project, although you don't need it. Nature is on your side. You will be amazed at what will be accomplished.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Dan Boone,

I think you are on the right track. If you are serious about rehabing your gorges, importing rocks and dropping them tight spots en mass to build gambions (where you have dragged a few of those old tires already), might be in order. Stick cottonwood and willow in the creek bed edges near or slightly downstream of your debris to maximize the potential of water seeping downwards of the obstacles.

If you are going to put trees in, then drop them with the stump end upcreek. The branchy end will dig into the sediments under the force of the water and will stop the tree from moving downstream.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, Roberto. We'll be making rock dams in the lower part of the creek as soon as my husband fixes the truck.

 
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The video on original post is amazing. I'm sold on this concept and will start in short order. My story similar to op. Dry creek bed. Last 6 weeks is only time in 5 years that water has flowed. Due to enormous rains in last 6 weeks. I have granite scraps at my disposal and will utilize it as soon as I can drive them in without rutting up the land
 
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Looks like you are in a very beautiful area. I wish I had all that cedar for building and whatnot - here we have Chinese Privet which just isn't as useful. We also have apple trees and I don't want more rust problems than I already have so no cedar for me.

Thanks to those idiots "industrious" folks at the Corps of Engineers in the 1960s I have some channeled and dredged waterways with similar flood problems. I started making brush dams to protect the banks, slow the water down and also collect sediment and they seem to work OK. I then found a really excellent book (possibly from reading these forums) called "Let the Water do the Work" by Bill Zeedyk and Van Clothier. They describe how to use induced meandering to restore health to a waterway. I have no idea if it would work in your situation as there are a number of factors which come into play, but it is well worth checking out. Much to my disappointment they recommend against brush dams and other common techniques (check dams, etc) because on a long enough time span they will not last. I still think it was well worth reading the book especially if you like messing about with waterways
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks! I found this document: http://quiviracoalition.org/images/global/143-Let_the_Water_do_the_Work_-_Concepts_and_Fundamentals.pdf

Peter Andrews seems to have had long-term success with his brush dams approach, so I think I'll stick with this technique I can actually implement, rather than hankering after things I can't do....but the meandering ideas are very helpful. Perhaps we can do that with some strategic brush piles.



 
Tyler Ludens
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Forgot to update this thread with a brush dam on the second seasonal creek that runs through our place (we get flood waters from two directions - lucky us!)

brushdam4.jpg
[Thumbnail for brushdam4.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yet another brush dam:

brushdam5.jpg
[Thumbnail for brushdam5.jpg]
 
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At the down stream end of the brush dams, it might make sense to pound in some willow or cottonwood stakes. Most of them will probably sprout. They will help hold the brush dams and every rain they will catch more branches, etc before the existing stuff rots. This should convert the brush dam to semi-longterm thing. Ideally, each dam should back up water to at least the base of the previous dam.

I admire your willingness to grab hold of a project like this!

 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks! There's no dirt to pound into, unfortunately. In most places we're down to rock.

 
Mick Fisch
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Once your brush dam starts building up some dirt, try the willows and cottonwood stakes. I guess it will be at the upstream side of the brush dam.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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A person could lay the willow into the bottom (when the rain is about to happen or has just started) It will get buried in sediment and become all root and then send suckers up.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I have access to willow but not cottonwood. And I'll have to stick the willow into a brush pile to keep the deer from eating it right away.
 
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On a side note. Willow leaves are edible (some varieties are stronger flavored than others, I've sampled several varieties over the years and I think I would use them as a supplement, definitely not a whole meal). Some of the native groups in Alaska had them on the menu. They are incredibly rich in minerals. I read an study on moose and it basically said the reason moose in Southcentral Alaska grew such big racks was because of the amount of willow in their diet (They have to pull out an extra amount of minerals up to 90 lbs of calcium and other minerals for the antelers out of their diet in a few months). Just a thought. Everyone knows that willow (at least the bark) also contains aspirin, I'm not sure how that figures into the picture.
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I'm hoping with the increased moisture held by the brush dams and trapped organic material, we can get some trees growing down there that are more diverse than the nearly solid stand of Ashe Juniper which blocks off almost all sunlight. Solid "Cedar" stands like this tend to turn an area to desert, which then erodes to bedrock with our flash floods. We threw some Osage Orange fruits down in the first brushpile, and we'll keep throwing things in there as we work.



Tyler, You may want to cut down some of those Ashe Junipers before you try to re-seed the area with something else. Like all junipers, they are allelopathic -- they produce chemicals that inhibit growth of any other plants beneath them which might offer competition. We have both Ashe junipers and eastern red cedar here and when we first bought this place it was a deep dark forest of almost nothing but those two trees (large over-story tree species like oaks and hickories excepted). After a couple of intense years of constant chainsaw activity, my husband and I managed to cut down about 40 acres of invasive junipers to restore the natural balance in our glades and woodlands. It was amazing to see those dark, nearly sterile (except for junipers) woods transform into lush, species diverse habitat. You wouldn't believe how quickly the birds and small mammals moved back in, and the new flowers and herbaceous plants are so numerous every year, I can barely keep up with identifications. Apparently the seeds were still there in the soil waiting for Mother Nature to get rid of the cedars to pop out again. In times past fire would have done it, but since we suppress wildfires now, it takes a lot of cutting and controlled burns to do the job.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, we're gradually taking cedars out.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Flooding rains last night tested our brush dams and they worked as expected. No huge surprises, just useful indications of where to do more work.

Here's where the first, or top, brush dam got pushed about 25 feet downstream by the water:

pusheddammay2016.jpg
[Thumbnail for pusheddammay2016.jpg]
pushedda-may2016.jpg
[Thumbnail for pushedda-may2016.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's some nice debris caught by one of the smaller brush dams:

brushdebris.jpg
[Thumbnail for brushdebris.jpg]
 
Mick Fisch
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Congratulations, Tyler, looks like you have the world by the tail!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you! During last night's storm I felt like I was being whipped around on the end of that tail - it was a doozy!

 
Tyler Ludens
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More flooding rains.

Here's the lower creek entering our place through the neighbors' flood gate:

floodgate.jpg
[Thumbnail for floodgate.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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A brush dam sort of in the middle of our place:

brushdamflood.jpg
[Thumbnail for brushdamflood.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's the lowest brush dam, the one we built first (don't do this - start as far upstream as you can go), with water moving down into the rock dam area:

oldbrushdam.jpg
[Thumbnail for oldbrushdam.jpg]
 
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