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WWRC 89-09
Evaluation of the State-of-the-Art Streambank Stabilization


Accelerated streambank erosion is a principal source of sediment supplied to streams (Knighton 1984), and is responsible for the annual loss of over 41 million tons of soil in Wyoming (Binns 1986). Not only does the process itself cause the loss of valuable lands, buildings and public works, but the resultant rise in sediment concentrations can increase water treatment costs, degrade valuable riparian and aguatic habitat, decrease aguatic and riparian productivity, reduce esthetic qualities, deplete water storage capacity, and promote the transport of other pollutants. On a national scale, streambank erosion causes over $250 million in damages annually (Henderson 1986).

Over the last century, the most commonly used methods for stabilizing streambanks relied mainly upon inanimate materials such as wood, stone, concrete, and iron (Seibert 1968). The most widely used of these "structural" methods include: stone riprap, concrete pavement, articulated concrete mattresses, transverse dikes, fences, asphalt mixes, jacks, gabions, tree revetments, and bulkheads (Keown et al. 1977). While many of these methods may provide immediate bank protection, they are expensive to build and maintain (Seibert 1968, Grissinger and Bowie 1984). Their long-term effectiveness is especially doubtful, since they are exposed to progressive deterioration by natural agents (Seibert 1968). In addition, structural methods may adversely impact both the aguatic and terrestrial environment, as well as be esthetically displeasing (Henderson 1986).

More recently, however, non-structural techniques for stabilizing streambanks have been used. These include any form of bank protection that requires management by natural means. Examples of non-structural techniques for stabilizing streambanks include: beaver management (Munther 1982, Apple 1985, DeBano and Heede 1987, Platts et al. 1987), livestock management (Edminster et al. 1949, Marlow 1985, Marlow and Pogacnik 1985, Platts and Nelson 1985, Siekert et al. 1985), and enhancing the riparian (streamside) vegetation (Seibert 1968, Logan 1979b, Monsen 1983, Platts et al. 1987). While non-structural methods for stabilizing streambanks may not provide immediate bank protection, they do have several advantages over structural methods because they tend to be longer lasting, cheaper to install, and more esthetically pleasing (Seibert 1968, Heede 1981, Henderson 1986).

The purpose of our report was to assemble and review the current literature on streambank stabilization techniques, and to compile a state-of-the-art streambank stabilization bibliography. Classical treatments such as riprap, gabions, and tree revetments were included, but our primary emphasis was on the characteristics and requirements of plant species suitable for bank revegetation in the semiarid western United States. We hope this review will help private land owners, as well as public officials, to choose the most appropriate streambank stabilization technique for their situation.

The report is divided into two major sections: a summary of streambank stabilization techniques, and a bibliography. Streambank stabilization techniques were classified as either structural or non-structural. Some potential methods for establishing vegetation along streambanks were also included in the summary section. Since it would be impractical to include every citation in these summaries, a separate bibliography was developed and is included in the Appendix. This bibliography will also be entered into the Wyoming Water Bibliography (Wyoming Water Research Center 1984). The Wyoming Water Bibliography is a computerized bibliographic storage and retrieval system whose services are available free of charge.

A summary of every streambank stabilization technique ever tried would require more effort than was intended for this report. Many techniques, or variations of a technique, have been tried for protecting streambanks. In order to make the most efficient use of our resources, this report was limited to summarizing the most commonly used techniques, as well as a few of the more novel techniques directly applicable to Wyoming. Our bibliography, however, includes every verified reference located for techniques on bank stabilization. This report also does not attempt to summarize the impacts caused by various streambank stabilization techniques on the physical, chemical, or biotic environment of the stream. For references or studies concerning these impacts see Bulkley (1975), Witten and Bulkley (1975), Menzel and Fierstine (1976), Stern et al. (1980a), and Stern et al. (1980b).

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