Preventing Erosion Problems & Stream Bank Stabilization

  Preserve native streamside vegetation.
Native riparian plants growing within a stream corridor provide important habitat and help to
stabilize banks. In times of flooding a well-vegetated stream bank may be your property’s best protection.

  But beware! Invasive non-native species can choke out native plants.
In some instances these plants can actually impede stream flow and contribute to flooding. Invasive plants also have little or no habitat value for wildlife. Yet mowing, clearing or stripping away non-native vegetation can promote erosion. Seek professional advice before removing invasive species, and replace with native vegetation as soon as possible.

  Avoid removing natural debris.
Removing branches, boulders, and dead vegetation from a stream can harm fish and wildlife. Natural debris provides food and cover for fish, aquatic insects and other animals. However, if debris poses a serious flooding or erosion hazard careful removal may be necessary. Seek advice from appropriate agencies before removing debris (see back page for phone numbers).

  Check for erosion regularly and correct problems promptly.
When flowing water meets unprotected soil, erosion almost always results. Barren slopes on any portion of your property (not just stream banks) can lead to sedimentation problems in the stream. Too much sediment (soil, sand and fine gravel) fills in the streambed and reduces its ability to carry floodwaters. Excessive sediment can also destroy pools, eliminate shelter and fish spawning habitat, and diminish food supplies for fish and aquatic insects.

Keep an eye on the bottom of the slope! A vegetated slope is the best defense against under-cutting and slumping banks. Replant barren slopes or disturbed soils as quickly as possible. On slopes that are not too steep, a covering of straw over newly bared earth will prevent erosion until vegetation can grow back. Putting tires or slabs of concrete over the bank will usually create more erosion rather than lessen the problem. See the next section for more effective techniques for treating an unstable bank.


Streams are constantly reshaping their channels through natural processes, scouring outside curves and depositing sediment inside bends in the waterway. A stream’s natural tendency to meander can be aggravated by human activities throughout the watershed. Increased volumes of stormwater runoff into streams, removal of natural vegetation, and upstream alteration of the channel may lead to erosion problems on banks that were once stable. Unstable banks can lead to extensive bank failures and add large volumes of sediment to the stream, resulting in property loss.

Tree and plant roots reach into the soil and stabilize stream banks.
This helps prevent erosion into the stream, a major cause of turbid
or murky water.

Streams are complex systems. Stabilizing banks requires knowledge and expertise. Actions taken to protect your bank may have unforeseen consequences downstream. You may unintentionally pass your erosion problems to your neighbor. If you have a serious erosion problem, consult with a qualified professional in bank stabilization and repair. Check with one of the offices listed on the back page. You  may need to obtain a permit as well. Municipalities can also have local stream ordinances with which you must comply. Local, state and federal permit processes help ensure riparian habitats and stream flows are protected, and that property owners do not inadvertently worsen the situation.  Remember, these agencies are there to assist you!

Here are a few bank stabilization techniques

  The best erosion control is proper stream care. Neighbors must cooperate in their efforts and share responsibility for maintaining a healthy stream.
  If the native riparian vegetation has been depleted or removed, but severe bank erosion has not yet occurred, you may be able to re-establish or add to the remaining vegetation on your own. Find out what types of native vegetation to use on your particular site and how to plant and care for them.
  Modify steep banks to shallow or moderate slopes and revegetate with native riparian plants. (Live cuttings of willow driven into the bank or bundles of live cuttings secured to the banks can be effective).
  Create terraces and plant with native species.
  Retrofit existing bank stabilization with planting collars.

  Erosion control need not be costly.
  Consider low-tech, lower cost, stream friendly alternatives first.
  Virtually any activity in a wetland requires a permit. Be sure to seek professional advice before taking action.

Diagram courtesy of USDA Forest Service and the Maryland Cooperative Extension, 2002

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