Restoring Streambanks, Strengthening Community

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Photo: Beth Moos (center, in gray T-shirt) explains details of the project to Gallatin watershed partners.

(July 2019) Written by Terri Nichols, Montana Watershed Coordination Council 

This spring, Beth and Jeff Moos watched the rising waters of the East Gallatin River with no small amount of apprehension. They couldn’t help but think of last year, when the river tore across their property west of Bozeman, taking huge chunks of land with it. The lawn grass holding the streambank together was no match for the force of spring flooding ricocheting off armored banks of rip-rap upstream.

This year, though, Beth and Jeff had less reason for anxiety. Thanks to support from the Greater Gallatin Watershed Council (GGWC), other local watershed partners, and the MWCC Watershed Fund, the streambank through the Moos’s property had been stabilized in December using “soft” restoration techniques. These include:

  • Re-grading the steep, eroding streambank
  • Planting woody shrubs, willow cuttings, and sod mats
  • Inserting logs and large root balls into the banks to deflect water in a way that slows flow rather than causing it to accelerate off rocky rip-rap.

    Sod mats and woody debris stabilize the East Gallatin streambank on the Moos property west of Bozeman.

MWCC and local project partners got to tour Beth and Jeff’s property recently to see the work of the Watershed Fund and the community-driven Watershed Approach in action. In addition to GGWC, local partners included engineering firm Morrison Maierle, contractor Glacier Excavating, Gallatin Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

As we walked along the river on Beth and Jeff’s property, engineers from Morrison Maeirle explained the techniques they’d used to stabilize the streambank in ways that slow and disperse the power of the East Gallatin, rather than increasing its force. The new plantings swayed with the flow of the river, but they held firm.

Beth told us about conversations she and her husband have had with neighbors about the benefits of soft restoration for their property and for the East Gallatin as a whole. Many remain skeptical, but Beth and Jeff plan to keep talking, using the land they live on to illustrate how this type of bank stabilization can protect property (including property downstream), reduce erosion, improve water quality, and increase habitat.

GGWC plans to hold a Fall project tour with Beth and Jeff to share successes, support, and resources with neighboring landowners, many of whom are experiencing similar bank erosion issues. The goal is to string together several projects along the East Gallatin, completed by GGWC and others, to demonstrate the inter-connectedness of neighbors and how their natural resource decisions affect one another.

The Watershed Fund supports these types of community conversations, which ultimately lead to more conservation and protection of natural resources, through its Capacity Funding. Few grants will pay for this type of engagement and coordination, so watershed organizations usually end up paying for it out of scarce operating funds. As part of its work to fill these critical funding gaps, in April the Watershed Fund also awarded capacity funds to five local watershed organizations, including GGWC, for a range of projects related to organizational, community, and watershed health.

To learn more about projects the Watershed Fund has supported in the Lower Gallatin, click here. And keep your eyes peeled for more Project Support funding opportunities this Fall!