Experimental stabilization methods installed along banks of the Bear River

The Bear River has seen significant erosion over the past decade.

TRENTON – Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative and Bear River Land Conservancy are working on a small piece of the Bear River to determine the feasibility of restoring the riverbank back to its natural state after nearly 20 feet of riverbank has been washed away in the past decade.

According to WRI’s project details, the objectives for this project has four components:

  1. Restore a section of the lower Bear River and identify restoration techniques that could be transferred to other areas of the Bear River.
  2. Reduce sediment and nutrient loading into the Bear River and improve water quality.
  3. Reduce noxious and invasive weeds in order to better facilitate the reestablishment of native vegetation.
  4. Improve native wetland and upland habitat along the lower Bear River.

The erosion has contributed to nutrient loading and decreased water quality and is rendering some parts of the Bear River dangerous or useless. There is a 15-feet vertical drop that impacts both people and livestock.

Casey Snider, Executive Director of the Bear River Land Conservancy, said this amount of erosion needs to be addressed because of how it impacts the habitat.

If we can find a way that’s economical that can stabilize the banks, maybe we can have these improvements in water quality,” he said.

Snider said this project is somewhat of an experiment, to see what methods are the most effective and cost-efficient, so future restoration can take place on other parts of the river.

“It’s a fairly small project, but if we can get positive results, we can extrapolate that in other places in a way that is economically feasible,” Snider said.

There are landowners downstream who will benefit from the results of this project, said Snider. The river is used for watering livestock, but with that vertical drop, there’s no way for the animals to get down there.

“We hope we can provide this information to those landowners they can use to go with the current land uses along the river,” Snider explained. The information they collect with this project will be unique to the Bear River system. Snider said some of the tools they are trying have been used in other places, and they’re trying to, “see if it sticks.”

The project summary report calls this a “pilot project” and states without an efficient and cost-effective solution, the system can’t improve.

Snider said they will know the result of this project the end of next year’s runoff. “If it all washes away, clearly it didn’t work,” he said

Phase one of the project was completed in June. Crews reshaped and restored the cut bank and applied some experimental stabilization techniques with different materials to test out the options for the stream bank. They used sod, wetland sod mats, and biodegradable fabric, over the traditional fix of rip rack and rocks.

Invasive species along the Bear River are being removed and replaced with native plants.

Phase two includes cutting down invasive brush and planting native vegetation along that same section of the river. The section is near the Bear River Bottoms, near Trenton, and is open and available for public access. The area is used for typical river recreational activities including fishing, canoeing, and swimming.

Bridgerland Audubon Society, Bear River Land Conservancy, Wasatch Widgeons, PacifiCorp, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forestry Fire & State Lands are the partners involved in this project. More information can be found at wri.utah.gov.

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