DRIFTLESS - In recent years, with large rainfall events becoming more common, professionals overseeing streambank restoration efforts have been struggling to revise their project planning to withstand heavier precipitation.
In Crawford County, the Land Conservation Department is taking a pause on planning new larger projects. In recent years, their team has done the projects only to see them blown out by a large precipitation event. Other counties in the area are changing the specifications of projects to make the installations more resilient to large rain events. It seems to be an issue that is increasingly affecting similar projects throughout the state.
To help address the problem, a Standards Oversight Committee has been convened by Wisconsin USDA-NRCS State Conservation Engineer Steve Becker. The purpose of the group is to bring together a group of conservation professionals in the state to evaluate the current standards to see where they may need updates, and to ensure consistent administration in all areas of the state.
Locally, two of the members of that committee are Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel, and Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort’s (TUDARE) Jeff Hastings.
“We’ve been meeting since about April of 2020, with the goal of generating updated standards within one year,” Micheel explained. “The likely outcome of the new standards, which will begin to affect projects starting in 2022, is that the engineering standards will become significantly more involved.”
Micheel said that he expects that some of the changes will be in guidelines for projects in the headwaters of watersheds with 0.8 percent grades or more, and areas within 100 yards downstream of bridges or culverts which can function like dams in times of flooding.
Specifically, the standards under review are NRCS 395, 580, 582 and 584. The 395 standard relates to stream habitat and management; 580 relates to streambank and shoreland restoration; 582 relates to open channels; and 584 relates to channel bed stabilization.
“I have heard that some counties are holding off on new projects pending the new standards,” Micheel said. “In Monroe County, we are forging ahead now because the new standards are likely going to be more involved from an engineering standpoint, and the standards we are using now may well become just a distant memory.”
TUDARE’s Jeff Hastings says that his group also plans to forge ahead with streambank restoration projects before the new standards are announced.
“I am hoping to see greater consistency across the state come out of the standards review process, but am not anticipating drastic changes,” Hastings said. “I think that some of the concern is to rethink how projects in the upper parts of the watershed are conducted, because the larger rainfall events we’ve experienced mean that projects in those areas are much more vulnerable to damage.”Hastings says that one of the good things he foresees coming out of the standards review process is for the standards for engineering and crop protection to get more in sync with the approach to habitat restoration. This will make identifying funding sources and designing projects more streamlined.