Applying bioengineering techniques to habitat restoration: Niagara River

2013-2014 Funding: $92,000, including $30,000 provided by the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund

Other Project Contributors: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Niagara Restoration Council and the Friends of Niagara Parks.

Applying naturalizing “bioengineering” habitat restoration techniques for the first time, the Niagara Parks Commission has successfully restored and protected fish habitat on a severely eroded stretch of the Niagara River, under a project supported by the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund.

The Niagara River is a 58-km waterway connecting Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The Canadian section of the Area of Concern extends along the entire length of the Canadian side of the Niagara River. The Niagara Parks Commission is responsible for the shoreline of the river on the Canadian side.

A priority under the Area’s Remedial Action Plan is protecting and improving habitat along the river shoreline and in the near-shore for fish of the Niagara River. The river has a number of sites where the bank has been eroded over the years as a result of the velocity of the river and the steepness of the bank. In the past, many of the river’s banks were “hardened” to prevent erosion, using common engineering techniques such as large stones and caged rocks.

In 2013 and 2014, the focus was on a 50-metre stretch of eroded shoreline near the Chippawa Battlefield, just a few kilometres upstream from Niagara Falls. After taking into account the site’s slope, the Parks Commission chose a combination of bioengineering techniques in which native vegetation is planted to stabilize the slope and improve habitat. This approach “softens” the shoreline and promotes fish refuge and protection for young fish.

To stabilize the bank, the site was re-graded and natural fibre matting was installed to increase soil support so that vegetation can take root. “Live fascines” - rope-shaped bundles of live cuttings, lashed together with twine - were planted horizontally to establish terraces on the slope and prevent erosion. Woody cuttings, known as “live stakes,” were planted to quickly establish a vegetation cover on the slope.

Fish habitat improvements along the stretch of the project site included the installation of “root wads” - trunks of dead trees with the roots still attached - which provide excellent protection for fish. As well, overhanging native shrubs, trees and wildflowers were planted to increase shade and provide protection for small fish along the shoreline.

Throughout the project, neighbouring landowners were kept informed about the project. Upon completion of the work, Parks Commission signs were installed at the site to inform visitors of the importance of fish habitat and of the goals of the project. The success of applying bioengineering techniques on this project has encouraged the Parks Commission to look at using similar approaches at other eroded sites along the Niagara River.

For more information on the Niagara River Area of Concern, please visit: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

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