Restoration in the Headwaters
Stream restoration and agricultural best management practices can be an effective way to improve water quality and fish habitat.
The Headwaters of the Harpeth River are in the Eagleville area of Rutherford County. Headwaters streams include Concord Creek, Puckett Branch, Kelley Creek, Cheatham Branch and the first several miles of the main stem of the Harpeth River. Approximately 50% of land cover in the Headwaters consists of agriculture. This region is part of the Inner Nashville Basin and has a unique ecosystem known as a cedar glade, which has characteristically shallow soils. These shallow soils, coupled with heavy agriculture, threaten the water quality and ecosystems of Headwater streams due to excessive sediment inputs, nutrient pollution, and pathogens from livestock wastes.
For over a decade, Harpeth Conservancy has taken the lead to restore Headwater streams. In 2007, Harpeth Conservancy developed the Harpeth River Headwaters Watershed Restoration Plan, which was updated in 2017. Thanks to funding from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s 319 Nonpoint Source program and support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Harpeth Conservancy has successfully implemented the restoration plan by promoting and coordinating adoption and installation of multiple agricultural BMP’s (best management practices). These include:
- Exclusion Fencing: Fencing is installed to limit livestock access to streams, which reduces streambank erosion and the amount of animal waste contaminating the water. Livestock are provided with either a dedicated access to the stream or more often, an alternate watering source.
- Heavy Use Areas: Stream access sites, stream crossings, watering areas, feeding areas and other areas heavily used by livestock are stabilized with concrete, gravel, and other materials to prevent mud and soil from washing into nearby streams. Excessive soil inputs, known as sedimentation, degrade streams by filling in gravel areas and reducing habitat, clogging fish and insect gills, smothering spawning beds and aquatic plants, and heating the water column.
- Riparian Vegetation Improvements: Native trees, shrubs, and grasses are planted in stream margins from the water’s edge outward to the greatest distance possible, ideally 300 feet or more. Riparian vegetation minimizes erosion, increases infiltration of stormwater runoff into the ground, filters pollutants in stormwater runoff, and provides habitat and food to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
- Streambank Stabilization: Streambank erosion, sloughing, and other instabilities along stream edges are corrected through biotechnical methods, which are also referred to as soft engineering approaches. This approach to streambank stabilization generally includes installation of at least two of the following components: biodegradable fabrics and blankets, terraces, coir logs, tree revetments, rip rap at the bank toe, and native plantings.
Harpeth Conservancy has worked with a number of farmers in the Harpeth River Headwaters to install practices that are not only good for water quality, but also lead to better living conditions for the cattle.