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Streambank research facility at Oklahoma State University.

Erosion of streambanks occurs as a result of erosive forces overcoming the erosion-resistant properties of the streambank. Sediment is the primary cause of water quality degradation, and incised streambanks contribute most of the sediment in many streams and rivers. In Oklahoma, 4,012 stream miles (6,457 km) are impaired for turbidity, and 151 miles (243 km) are impaired by sedimentation or siltation. Successful streambank protection seeks to manage stream evolutionary processes and prevent excessive sediment movement in the stream system, which would otherwise impair water quality and create stream stability problems upstream and downstream.

Cow Creek, an alluvial stream on Oklahoma State University property, is a typical Oklahoma stream whose natural course has been manipulated. The stream is currently deepening and widening, with the formation of associated side gullies and sloughed streambanks (fig. 1). Structures that are threatened include the Oklahoma Grounds Studio Grounds, OSU service roads and overhead and underground utility lines


In response, the OSU Department of Biosystcms and Agricultural Engineering has partnered with the OSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture to establish a multidiscipiinary riparian and streambank research, education, and demonstration facility associated with Cow Creek. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board funded the project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission partnered with OSU to implement the project.

Covering all the bases

The project is an integral part of the OSU Botanical Gardens on-going Integrated Environmental Research and Education Site (IERES). When completed the IERES initiativc will be one of the most comprehensively designed environmental systems for research, demonstration, and academic and public education in the United States. Development of various segments of IERES is underway (see

The botanical gardens and IERES are located between two streams (Cow Creek and Stillwater Creek) that converge downstream of the 100 acre (40.5 ha) botanical garden site. Partnerships with state and federal agencies, corporations, and scientists in plant, engineering, and environmental sciences are providing the capacity to efficiently plan, design, build, and manage the development. The overriding intent of the integrated site is to provide research and education opportunities, preserve critical resources and riparian corridors, enhance quality of life, and promote environmental sustainability.

This project is very much in the public eye, and as a part of IERES, the streambank research facility will educate the public about native plant materials in Oklahoma and demonstrate different means of stabilizing streambanks with structural and vegetative tools. Educational signage, walking trails, and the results of research performed on-site will help to educate the public and target audiences. This new research facility gives OSU researchers and partners the opportunity to study streambank erosion processes from multiple perspectives.

The streambank research facility has been constructed using a variety of stabilization and enhancement techniques, with the intent to reduce human-accelerated erosion of streambanks in the area. The project includes modification of streambanks and the stream channel to modify flow direction and reduce shear stresses on streambanks and streambeds, as well as installation of different native vegetation treatments.


Location, location, location ... and innovation

The research facility is located on a bend of Cow Creek, a curved part of the channel that is being restructured and stabilized. The slopes have been altered and vegetation has been added to stabilize the streambanks. On the outer bank, six research plots on 1:1 slopes were constructed in October 2011 to study the mechanisms of streambank erosion and failure and to evaluate methods for stabilizing streambanks (fig. 2). Three different graminoid vegetation treatments will be planted on these plots initially for quantifying changes in credibility and geotechnical resistance to failure.

Each plot also includes a subsurface drain that can be used to control groundwater in the near-streambank vadose zone, supplementing existing research at OSU on the role of pore-water pressures and groundwater processes on stream-bank erosion anci failure. Both the vegetation/soil interface and geotechnical stability during interaction with the flow regime will be studied and altered through adaptive management to better understand the dynamics associated with stream geomorphology and stream vegetation in typical alluvial bottomland settings.

This innovative research facility is unique to the state of Oklahoma and open for collaboration with other academic, private, and governmental agencies. This site is perfectly situated to study both the application of streambank stabilization techniques developed elsewhere and to develop new solutions for Oklahoma and the midwestern United States. The human partnerships developed during this project have enhanced future research opportunities, and the outreach potential m Oklahoma is substantial as green solutions start making headwav in the state.

ASABE members Sharia Lovem, research engineer, and Garey Fox, associate professor Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, USA;
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Author:Lovern, Benjamin; Fox, Garey
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Geographic Code:1U7OK
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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