Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Ausable River Restoration

man in front of construction equipment

The Ausable River Association last month wrapped up the construction phase of work to restore a 3,000-foot-long stretch of the East Branch of the Ausable River in Jay, the nonprofit’s biggest project to date.

The restoration project aims to reinvigorate the river channel in an area where Route 9N follows the river along a gradual bend near the Ice Jam Inn. The river had become “overwidened,” reducing its ability to move sediment and rock through the river system and exacerbating flood and ice jam risks.

By building out a wider stream bank, narrowing the channel and constructing a series of rock structures across the river, AsRA hopes to restore the stream’s natural flow and function, improving trout habitat and easing flood risks. The project faced delays in July and August thanks to rainy weather and high water levels, requiring a one-month extension on AsRA’s work permit.

I met Gary Henry, AsRA’s stream restoration manager, at the site on Oct. 25 as the project’s lead contractor continued to move large boulders into position. The site now includes a so-called “toe wood bench” – the name for a stream bank built with large, overlapping tree trunks and root balls and covered by gravel and large rocks.

The rock structures added to the stream channel direct water toward the middle of the channel, relieving pressure on the bank, and create riffles and pools that help oxygenate the stream and bolster biodiversity.

River bank

The restoration project included constructing a wide river bank along the road. Photo by Zachary Matson.

rocks near River bank

Large rock structures like this one help direct water into the main part of the channel and away from the river bank. Photo by Zachary Matson.

The project, known as Site 2, is just upstream of another restoration project that AsRA finished in recent years. I visited that site in the spring to learn about how AsRA continues to monitor their restoration projects and fill in the banks with native plants.

The last step of construction at Site 2 includes seeding the newly-built river bank planting live stakes. AsRA staff will continue to visit and plant at the site until it has built up a strong collection of diverse, native plants. The vegetation helps strengthen the structure of the riverbank and offers important habitat for animals. As Henry and I wrapped up our tour, Henry interrupted a question to point out an eagle perched on a tree stump across the river.

Henry said he didn’t expect AsRA would work on another large construction project in 2024, instead continuing to plan for a project in Ausable Forks and starting field work on a large assessment of the river in Keene. That assessment will aim to identify the types of restoration work needed in that town – something similar occurred in Jay, setting the stage for the actual restoration projects.

Baby near a rock

Baby Water Line goes bouldering (or, two erratics hanging in the woods).

Photo at top: Gary Henry, the river restoration manager at the Ausable River Association, explains work at the organization’s latest restoration project in Jay. Photo by Zachary Matson.

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

5 Responses

  1. Linda Ramirez says:

    Thank you AuSable River Association for your great work.

  2. Charles Baudinet says:

    Why not engineered log jams(ELJs) instead of boulders to direct the river?

    • Boreas says:

      I have seen them use both. I think it depends on location and the flow of ice. My guess is the logjams tend to get torn apart with heavy ice floes – especially mid-river. Boulders are anchored on the bottom and sculpt the bed somewhat, whereas logjams tend to be more buoyant and usually anchored on the bank.

  3. Scott says:

    It will be interesting to see how this works out for both flood mitigation and fish recovery. Most recent science suggests that channelization does not help recover wild trout and tends to speed the flow of water through the river system, exacerbating flooding. Natural rivers are meant to move in their floodplain, not to be permanently routed.

    • marie says:

      This project really isn’t what you referring to as channelization, which you are correct does not help with flood mitigation. In this case they have restored the proper active stream width, and actually created more access to safe areas in flood events. The river is able to overflow onto the floodplain benches when water levels are high, but the rock weirs help to direct some of the water to the center of the stream to reduce velocities against the bank.

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