Video: Sleepy Creek project saves farmland and prevents erosion, pollutants in stream
(Editor’s Note: The article below first appeared in the West Virginia Conservation Agency’s 2020 Annual Report.)
A streambank restoration project on farmland along Sleepy Creek, near Berkeley Springs in Morgan County, was completed in October of 2020 and will prevent future erosion and loss of trees, as well as tons of sediment and pollutants from washing downstream.
“The landowners were experiencing a lot of erosion along their streambank, and losing land every year, so they wanted to find a solution for that,” said Kristen Bisom, a conservation specialist with the West Virginia Conservation Agency.
The Sleepy Creek Watershed Association teamed up with the landowners, Terry and Danise Edmisten, and realized that a stream restoration would be necessary to fix the problem.
“The goal of the project is to stabilize the streambank to prevent further erosion,” Bisom said. “There was over 600 feet of streambank that was experiencing a lot of erosion each year. By some estimates about 80 tons of sediment were being washed away into the stream each year.
“Along with that, there was nitrogen and phosphorous, which are two pollutants that we’re concerned with that were also getting washed away with the sediment,” she said.
Stabilizing the streambank prevents further loss of sediment and to prevent it and the pollutants from washing downstream. Sleepy Creek is a part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Rock revetments, vegetated soil lifts built atop the revetments and four j-hooks in the streambed were the significant structural pieces to the restoration project.
“The j-hooks are meant to divert water away from the streambank, which just means they’re going to keep that water from pounding up against the bank and washing away the sediment,” Bisom said. “They keep the water more in the middle of the stream where it’s meant to go.
“The rock revetments and the soil lifts on top are meant to stabilize the bank,” she said. “The soil lifts are vegetated because one of the best things to keep soil in place are root systems, so we’ve got grass, shrubs and small trees in there, and as those grow, they’ll help keep those soil lifts in place. And the rock revetments at the bottom will help keep some of the stronger currents from washing those away from underneath.”
Ninety trees were planted along the streambank to create a future riparian buffer. Volunteers with the Sleepy Creek Watershed Association and volunteers local to the area helped plant the trees in October, and then the project was completed. The planted trees will help stabilize the top of the bank.
The result of the work is a bucolic, eye-pleasing stream and streambank with newly planted trees and crystal-clear water flowing through the channel.
“It doesn’t compare to the ‘before’ picture,” said Chuck Marsh, president of the Sleepy Creek Watershed Association.
Marsh noted that the streambank stabilization was a long-term project – six years in the making.
To help cover the cost of the streambank stabilization design, the project received a $47,000 Chesapeake Bay Technical Capacity Grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation back in 2016.
Marsh said that the project was a team effort along with the West Virginia Conservation Agency, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District, and the Chesapeake Bay Program. It also benefitted from a “super contractor” who was very conscientious “in what he did and how he did it,” Marsh said.
That contractor was Secatello Contracting, LLC, out of Kearneysville.
“We couldn’t have been more pleased with them,” he said.
Greenway Engineering, LLC, also provided construction oversight.
“This was definitely a team effort,” Bisom said. “This project was started six years ago by Sleepy Creek Watershed Association, and they partnered with us, the West Virginia Conservation Agency, to get funding from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Chesapeake Bay Program to start construction on the project.
“The Eastern Panhandle Conservation District was also key to getting this project done since all of the funding and the work went through the board,” she said.
An added benefit of the project, according to Marsh, is the 22 acres of farmland on the property that the Edmistens agreed to enroll in the Morgan County Farmland Protection Program. An easement was placed on the land that will restrict it from being used for development in the future. The acreage could be sold, but it must remain farmland.
Marsh said he would like to do similar projects along Sleepy Creek in the future.