Dollars Down The Stream

Karen Gotter, Killbuck Creek Watershed Coordinator

July 20, 2018

As summer has really gotten underway, the memories of our intense spring rains may start to fade, and growing crops have hidden lots of the evidence.  Most of our farmers are still talking about it, especially the effects the weather had on the local planting season, but they weren’t the only ones affected.  We’ve heard the stories of extreme storm damage to fields and streambanks, and sadly enough we’ve seen the devastation on site as well, as we continue to receive calls for advice and assistance from landowners to manage or recover from stormwater damage on their property. Anyone trying to clean up from these events is also faced with one more challenge:  The costs associated with debris removal, and any other proactive measures to stabilize and prevent further cutting or erosion can be very high.

The immediate out-of-pocket costs feel like they hit the hardest, but with the types of flooding we’ve seen here lately, the stream is carrying away a lot more than water. From a farming perspective, a lot of money goes down the creek as well, in ways we don’t think about at first.  One of our local Certified Crop Advisors (CCA) has said that the top two inches of soil is the most valuable:  Many nutrients reside in this upper layer from purchased fertilizer (and manure), lime applications, and residues that are being converted into organic matter.  This layer is where the seeds get their start, and recently planted fields saw a lot of seedlings get carried away when the field was washed out.  Fields that remain saturated for a while will experience reduced yields as the remaining crops suffer from being waterlogged, and long term, the overall yield potential of a field will be reduced, especially if it continues to lose topsoil year after year.  More than one farmer had to spend more time and money to replant damaged acres…and that’s not even considering the expenses for repairing ruts and gullies, replacing culverts, redoing lanes and driveways, and other infrastructure that suffered. 

Speaking of roads and infrastructure, there are immediate and long-term costs that we will incur as a county and a society that come from not managing our stormwater.  If we don’t have landowners working to manage the water that falls on their property, then the problem moves downstream in a bigger and more damaging way. And when each spring brings more severe rains, our county and township workers have to spend more time (and their budget) on fixing washed out roads and bridges.

Our office is taking advantage of every opportunity to learn about the complexity of working within streams, from both a legal and a hydrologic perspective.  For example, in many cases in Holmes County, a permit will be required to work in the streambed, but there are other practices that can be used to avoid needing a permit and will do more long-term good.  We do not recommend putting concrete on stream banks as a “band-aid” to fix bank erosion, but there both “hard” and “soft” engineering concepts that can be applied instead.  Keeping stream banks well vegetated is the key to stabilizing a stream – And that means we need to have a shift in thinking about what our landscaping standards should be.  Trees will be your best defense against a shifting stream bank, but it will help to stop mowing and trimming banks, to give grasses a chance to develop deep roots. Huge root systems are what is required to hold the soil in place and above ground, trees and grasses help to slow the water to reduce the potential for downstream erosion.

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One resource that may help protect our county’s stream-side fields is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which is enrolling acres until August 17th.  This is a way to install and maintain buffers and riparian enhancement projects that will also enable a landowner to receive rental payment for the enrolled ground. However, even if you aren’t interested in or accepted into the program, we would love to offer advice and technical assistance on how to approach stream projects. 

Being proactive and working towards stabilizing our streams and rivers is going to be challenging, and won’t come cheap, but it is still the best way to save money, time and control against future damage.  There will continue to be storms that we aren’t prepared for, and expensive, time-consuming cleanups afterwards.  We can’t control the rain that we’ve been getting, but in the meantime, we can take some needed steps to hold our ground against the weather.

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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