Students helped save a trout stream with the historic conservation practice of planting trees. Warner Brook, Town of Arietta, has been negatively impacted by bank erosion for years, and the Halloween Storm of 2019 worsened the stream’s condition. The Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District teamed up with partners and students to get conservation on the ground and stabilize Warner Brook.
Warner Brook has been plagued by erosion for decades. During the Halloween Storm, fast moving flood waters, rocks, and boulders scoured and undercut the banks.
Where Warner Brook enters Piseco Lake, water velocity decreased, and sediment settled out to create a delta. Instead of exhibiting natural steps and pools that are characteristic of steep mountain streams, the down-stream section of Warner Brook was straight and steep with no meanders, steps, and pools. These altered, post-flood conditions resulted in an unstable, highly erosive stream.
Warner Brook is classified as a trout stream, but fish were unable to pass through the culvert and safely migrate upstream to spawn. The downstream end of the culvert was perched high above the stream, creating a waterfall that inhibited aquatic passage.
In September 2022, the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District team placed large boulders below the culvert to shorten the distance of the waterfall and create steps and pools. The step-pool system promotes aquatic passage and dissipates stream energy, decreasing erosion. Filter fabric was installed to prevent sub-surface flow, enhancing fish passage, and a cross vein was installed for grade control.
“The Halloween storm of 2019 showed the power of water in a way none of us could miss, and what happens when a brook is not functioning in the ecosystem as it should,” said United States Fish and Wildlife Senior Natural Resource Scientist and part-time Arietta resident Katherine Weil. “Seeing this brook restored in a way where the water could flow naturally, as opposed to forcefully and directed through man-made structures, is a dream come true for our family.”
Federal, state, and local partners made this project economical and successful. The Hamilton County Department of Public Work hauled 160 tons of rock, and provided an excavator and operator. The New York State Department of Transportation provided rock. The Town of Arietta Highway Department provided a second excavator.
The District purchased filter fabric, obtained permits from the Department of Environmental Conservation, Adirondack Park Agency, and Army Crops of Engineers, and designed and oversaw project installation. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service approved the project design.
“No one does it better than New York State’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts,” said manager Caitlin Stewart. “Technician Lenny Croote has established incredible partnerships with Hamilton County’s agencies and departments, and was able to install a $70,000 stream stabilization project for a fraction of the cost. Partners brought the cost way down for equipment, labor, and rock.”
On May 4, District staff gave a presentation to Lake Pleasant Central School’s fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes detailing the Warner Brook streambank stabilization project. The students then took to the field to plant native trees along the streambank.
Sand cherry, nine bark, red osier dogwood, silver maple, white cedar, and Streamco willow were selected for this project sight because these species are resilient, like wet conditions, and exhibit superior performance in streambank stabilization. Streamco willow has large root biomass, stem resiliency, and grows quickly.
“Fishing brought my family to Piseco Lake 80 years ago and I remember vividly how concerned my grandfather was when the fish populations were low,” said Weil. ”I became the wildlife scientist I am now in many ways because of him. So, seeing Warner Brook function for the first time in my lifetime in such a way that we saw Common Mergansers and young trout was beyond amazing. A dream come true!”
“I thank the Lake Pleasant Sacandaga Association for contributing to the expense of shovels,” said Stewart. “Their support is invaluable. I also thank Katherine Weil, who purchased trees for the project and offered a warming station with hot cocoa for the students.”
The trees students planted will shade Warner Brook, enhance trout habitat, and provide food for local wildlife and pollinators. The step-pool system the District installed encourages fish passage, and decreases erosion. Partners came together to successfully save Warner Brook.
The District has been working to manage and promote the wise use of natural resources in Hamilton County since 1965. For more information go to www.hamiltoncountyswcd.org or call 518-548-3991.
Photo at top: Mr. Cline, center, helps his students plant trees.