Over fifty people gathered at two farms along beautiful Otter Creek in Iowa County on July 27, learning and exchanging strategies for streambank protection and restoration. After discussing sites of streambank erosion at Linda Kane's beautiful Avoca farm, through which Otter Creek loops and circles around, we moved to Dave and Barbara Mellum's farm a few miles upstream for further discussion and lunch. Dave Vetrano, retired fisheries biologist from Wisconsin's DNR, provided important insights from his more than 30 years of working to protect streams and streambanks in the Driftless region. Along with the experience of several farmers, county conservationists, and organizational leaders, we had a morning of rich discussion, crowned by a lunch featuring hamburgers from Cates Family Farm and shrimp from Gulf fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the quality and quantity of water received from streams coming off of Upper Midwest farms.
A few gleanings from the morning's conversations:
- Farming practices from early settlement days displaced tremendous amounts of eroded topsoil,
and now streams have to cut through many feet of deposition as they try to discharge their energy into a floodplain. Leveling off streambanks so there's an easy way for streams to "find their floodplains" when water is high can reduce scouring into streambanks.
- You don't need to farm next to a stream to engage in streambank protection. Farms using soil health practices throughout a watershed increase water infiltration and reduce the huge burdens on streambanks in extreme rainfall events.- Trees growing next to a stream shade out grasses that help hold the soil during heavy rainfall events. Also, when trees fall into streams, they can become obstructions that increase turbulence and scouring of streambanks.- Modest amounts of carefully managed grazing on streambanks to reduce tree shoots and other brush can encourage grasses that help strengthen streambanks.
- Agroforestry can be compatible with streambank protection. Trees not planted right by streams can provide economic value while still protecting streambanks.