Work has began this week on a stream and habitat restoration project at Johns Brook in Keene Valley. This first phase of restoration, addressing the lower third of the impacted reach, should be complete by the end of this month and is intended to speed the stream’s return to pre-Irene character and function, reduce bank erosion and improve wildlife habitat.
In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene in August of 2011, nearly half a mile of Johns Brook was dramatically altered by local officials from its natural state – from the Route 73 bridge upstream. The work was done in the spirit of public safety to remove stream blockages and protect property. Unfortunately, flattening (removing cascades and filling in pools) and straightening the stream channel reduced its ability to dissipate the water’s energy and the faster moving water causes additional flooding and erosion problems. Furthermore, the stream’s trout habitat was drastically diminished.
In 2012, Essex County received a $500,000 grant from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Empire State Development to recover from Tropical Storm Irene. Of this funding, $25,000 was earmarked for stream restoration at Johns Brook. This project also receives support from NYS Department of State through the Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.
Carl Schwartz, NY State Coordinator for FWS’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, designed this restoration project that returns the stream channel to its natural shape and character to encourage appropriate sediment transport and improve aquatic habitat. What is now a “U”-shaped channel from bank to bank will be returned to a shape with one deeper side, to keep low water flowing quickly, and one flat higher side (a “bankfull bench”) to accommodate higher flows. Sinuosity, as well as cascades, pools and riffles will be returned to the stream to dissipate the water’s power and improve habitat. The cross vane just upstream from the bridge that was designed in 2011-2012 by FWS will be repaired with bigger, more suitable rocks that were in short supply immediately after Irene. This cross vane speeds water and discourages deposition as it passes under the bridge.
“This first phase should be an excellent step in recreating the normal channel roughness (with boulders), slope variations (as typical step pools) and channel shape that are all needed to control stream power and restore normal sediment transport,” Trout Unlimited’s John Braico said in a statement to the press. “It will be a highly visible step in the restoration of Johns Brook as a healthy mountain brook with all its aesthetic, recreational and biologic values.”
It’s hoped that as additional funding becomes available, restoration in the remaining impacted sections upstream will address similar problems. Additionally, Keene highway department crews have begun restorative work on a more modest scale on Putnam Brook. Additional restorative work at Rivermede Farm along the Ausable River in Keene Valley took place last year.
The current project is a cooperative effort of the Ausable River Association (AsRA), Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Trout Unlimited (TU), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Essex County, the Town of Keene, and private landowners.
Photo of ongoing Johns Brook restoration (Sept 17) courtesy the Ausable River Association‘s Corrie Miller.