Don’t let a little jam become a big problem!

Karen Gotter, Killbuck Creek Watershed Coordinator

November 27, 2018

As we head back into the wet season (did we ever really leave it this year?) we are once again receiving complaints about storm water and are gearing up for more stories about frustrations with drainage issues and flooding. One of the big issues we saw with last spring’s flooding and erosion was the creation or exacerbation of the piles of stumps, branches and trash that do to a stream what long hair does to the shower drain. While logjams tend to blend into the landscape around rural streams, they are indicative of upstream issues in the watershed--stable stream systems do not tend to wash away trees.

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Interestingly, it does seem like more and more people are making the connection between blocked stream channels and the property damage they are experiencing. But that causes our staff to debate why there is a disconnect between the realization that a logjam is creating a problem and doing something about it. We theorize that a lack of knowledge about how to clear out the jam, what to do with the debris, or the legal aspects of working in the stream are to blame. If that’s the case, we are happy to offer some advice about the best way to approach the problem.

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Landowners have the right to manage the water courses on their property, and they have the responsibility to do so. Simply clearing foreign debris from the channel is not a violation of local, state, or federal laws, if done following proper Best Management Practices (BMPs), which are basically two simple rules: Do not operate equipment in the streambed, and do not leave the debris in the floodplain.

These principles are also relevant for those proactive folks who want to make sure trees on their stream banks do not fall in and get washed away, creating problems there, or to their neighbors downstream. It is appropriate to cut trees that are leaning excessively and are likely to become dislodged during flooding. In these cases, leaving the stump in the bank may offer more years of bank stabilization after removing the top and trunk.

Prior planning is a must for anyone attempting to tackle a logjam, and it will be highly dependent on the weather leading up to it. Make sure conditions are safe to be working around the water, and that the soils on the banks are dry and stable enough to have equipment on. Our drier summer months are the preferred time, as water levels should be low and the jam will be more exposed and safer to work around. However, it’s a good idea to start your planning well ahead of time, and to keep an eye on the site through different seasons, or site conditions, to figure out how to access the jam with large equipment, for either dismantling the jam or removing the leftover detritus. Even though it adds to an already daunting task, it is very important that the limbs and trunk debris be removed from the banks of the stream. Otherwise, they are simply picked up by high water the next time that area floods, and become fodder for another jam.

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Removing a jam will be challenging and might be more than many landowners are prepared to undertake on their own. There are several people operating in the county that have experience with logjam removal, and the expense of hiring them may well be worth it to prevent future flood-related damage. We will be offering a workshop to local excavators interested in being updated on the BMP’s of stream projects sometime in the upcoming year, so please let us know if you are interested in participating.

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We highly suggest calling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for questions about working on stream projects. We’ve learned from them that, contrary to popular thought, it IS better to ask their permission than forgiveness. They will be able to verify whether or not there are wetland areas to be mindful of, and if a permit is needed, they are frequently inexpensive and easy to obtain. A call to our office as well may be useful, to offer technical assistance for your site, or to put you in touch with the ones who can answer your questions.

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Karen Gotter, Killbuck Creek Watershed Coordinator

Karen joined the Holmes SWCD in January 2016. A current resident of Wooster, Karen splits her time between Holmes and Wayne counties, and the “home farm” near Bellville, Ohio. Since joining the staff, she has been involved with a variety of tasks within the office, including soil testing and nutrient recommendations, water sampling, conservation planning, field days and educational programming. She is on the state committee for the Ohio Envirothon, and is working with the multi-county water quality stewardship program, Credits 4 Conservation. She spends Tuesday mornings at the Farmerstown sale barn to increase SWCD’s presence in southern Holmes County, and she has taken charge of the MWCD cover crop cost-share program. The wide range of conservation projects, outreach, and technical assistance that the Soil and Water office provides is the main reason she looked for an opening in this field, and Karen considers herself extremely lucky to have found the perfect position in Holmes County. She can be reached at 330-600-3107 or kgotter@co.holmes.oh.us.