Jefferson County Soil and Water begins Sandy Creek restoration

The project manager for the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, Levi F. Rudd, is overseeing the stream bank stabilization project. Norm Johnston/ Watertown Daily Times

A once peaceful curve in Sandy Creek looked like a construction site Tuesday.

The distinct growl and whine of a backhoe that had carved out and dried up a slice of the creek could be heard echoing from the forest backdrop as it picked up and deposited materials along a 560-foot section of the bank.

Workers, baking in the midafternoon sun, laid out materials and pounded stakes into the ground as the yellow machine scraped and lifted and deposited earth and stone along the formerly fragile habitat.

If you didn’t know any better, you would think there was a serious crime against nature being committed at the site.

But visit again in two years, and it will seem that no one from a work crew had ever been there, according to project manager Levi F. Rudd.

Mr. Rudd is a district technician for the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the work being done Tuesday represents not a major new commercial development in the heart of prime agricultural land but instead the first leg of an ambitious $300,000, five-section stream-bank restoration project being undertaken by the district.

The project, which has been four years in the making, is using a technique pioneered by hydrologist David L. Rosgen by incorporating natural and reclaimed materials into the stream bank to prevent soil and sediment erosion and improve the fish habitat in two bodies of water here.

“It’s great to be able to take a project like this from the grant-writing phase through the survey, permitting, and construction phases to the finished product,” Mr. Rudd said.

Instead of stone or freshly cut lumber, the district will use trees from the county forest that have blown over in high winds.

After they were exposed to weather, the trees became stained and unsuitable for lumber.

But with their root structures intact, they provide an ideal material for bank stabilization, according to Mr. Rudd.

On Tuesday, the trunks of the trees were being embedded into the bank and weighed down with dirt and stone as two workers placed willow branches on top of the layers of crisscrossed trunks before wrapping the structure with an erosion control material that will protect the newly built bank for 24 months.

The material, composed of coconut fiber and jute — a vegetable fiber that can be spun into thread — will be anchored with willow stakes that eventually will grow into 15- to 20-foot-tall trees, further strengthening the bank as the erosion control material deteriorates.

The technique, which is relatively new to New York, has been used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with great success over the past three years, Mr. Rudd said.

Before the project began, the bank was being undercut and 1- to 2-foot pieces of bank were falling into the water, polluting the aerated pools where fish like to spawn, smothering the newly laid eggs.

Once the project is completed, the gnarled roots of the trees will provide a protected place for fish to lay their eggs, according to Mr. Rudd.

Other stream bank restoration projects have used rock, which is smooth and can actually make water flow faster, encouraging erosion, Mr. Rudd said.

Certain sections of the creek will be fitted with rock veins that will back water up to create deeper pools in places and will funnel water toward the center of the creek and away from the sides.

Work began on this section of the creek last Wednesday, when Jeffrey L. Benthin, owner of J.B.’s Excavation Services, Apalachin, diverted water into an overflow channel and completed his preparations.

On Monday, Mr. Benthin placed the tree trunks against the bank before starting to weigh them down with earth on Tuesday. By Friday this section will be completed.

The district then will move on to two other sections of the creek before work stops Sept. 15 for trout spawning season.

The final two sections of the creek will be restored after June 1 next year, when construction can begin again.

The project is being paid for with state and federal grants.

-Daniel Flatley, Watertown Daily Times