The Story Behind the Houghton Streambank Project

This article is part of Genesee RiverWatch’s 2021 Year End Appeal Series – telling the stories behind our significant accomplishments.

In 2017-18 we completed our first streambank restoration project at a site near Belfast, NY, owned by Mallards Dairy, LLC.  Our restoration projects are designed to reduce sediment and nutrient inflows to the Genesee and improve aquatic habitat in the river. This project was so successful that RiverWatch and the landowner – whose farmland was preserved – were eager to undertake additional sites. 

In 2019 and 2020, RiverWatch executed projects near Fillmore and Angelica with different landowners.  In the course of this work, we gathered experience with the varied geology of the Genesee and construction techniques required to both stabilize/recover the riverbank and improve aquatic habitat in the river. 

Each of these projects has been funded by significant grants from the federal government and, in one case, a trust stemming from the Kodak bankruptcy.  Before applying for these grants however, RiverWatch expends considerable time and money in developing landowner relationships; discussing permitting issues with local, state, and federal authorities; and the preliminary engineering required to establish project feasibility and cost estimates.  This work is entirely supported by our volunteers and our donors.

In 2020, we identified an 1,800 foot stretch of riverbank south of Houghton, NY, as our next restoration target.  This rapidly eroding property is owned by Mallards Dairy and used to grow feed for their dairy operation in Cuba, NY.   A $197K grant from the Great Lakes Commission, supplemented by a $119K commitment from Mallards Dairy, allowed us to begin the work of detailed engineering and formal permitting.

In its original state, the property had 6-15 foot tall, near-vertical banks, composed of light sandy soils.  This is typical of many stretches of the Genesee and is part of the region’s glacial legacy.  Being on the outside of a riverbend, erosion during high water events was significant and would be reduced with streambank restoration.

Based on our experience, the project was engineered to cut back the angle of the bank, creating three tiers which are stabilized by a combination of rock and interlaced tree trunks and, eventually, topped by plantings of willow trees and bushes.  In addition, we installed five rock “barbs”, protruding into the river, which slow the current during high water and redirect it away from the bank toward the middle of the stream.

Harvesting and planting of willow stakes started in November and will continue next spring.  Additional bushes and, possibly, juvenile trees will be added in 2022-23.

Your support is critical to our ability to continue this work on behalf of our river and our community. As you know, Genesee RiverWatch is dependent on its volunteers to do this work.  However, our volunteers need funding to run the organization, offer public events, and do the studies, outreach, and engineering necessary to obtain financing for the larger projects.

Please consider investing $100, $250 – or an amount of your choosing – in Genesee RiverWatch as a part of your year-end giving plan.


The Genesee RiverWatch Team

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