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Program aims to protect South Carolina streams

The Stream Bank Repair Program teaches residents how to protect stream banks by planting buffers of native plants to prevent erosion and pollution.

SUMTER, S.C. — The Stream Bank Repair Program aims to reduce erosion and improve water quality in streams. Water Resources Agent for Sumter Clemson Extension Katie Collins runs the program.

"What you see above ground, there's also a bunch underground as far as roots," she explained about the native plants surrounding the edges of the stream.

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Collins says it’s those roots that keep the stream banks from eroding, which can happen after lots of rainfall like what we saw last week.

"When you have major storm events like Hurricane Ian, you see a huge influx of water," Collins explained. "If you just kind of have mowed turf to the edge of your stream, when that storm surge kind of comes through, you're going to see some erosion immediately. But if you have a nice buffer of plants it's gonna be a lot more resilient to erosion."

Master gardener Randa Edmunds understands the importance of that buffer, which is why she and her grandchildren helped plant the buffer at Shot Pouch in March as a part of the protection program.

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"I’m just amazed! I can't believe it!" Edmunds exclaimed about the bushes that have sprouted leaves and gotten taller since she put them in the ground.

Along with other volunteers, she hammered sticks in the ground that have been growing along the bank. This has helped improve the quality of the water, which you can see from the critters swimming through it.

"Water quality really starts at these headwater streams," Edmunds explained. "So if you can protect these, reduce the amount of sediment and bacteria and other pollutants going into these streams, you're really on your way to protecting water quality throughout the whole watershed."

That’s why Kyle Kelly says starting with just this one stream can be helpful. He came out to help plant the buffer.

"Shot Pouch is, is a really important, you know, and undervalued kind of stream corridor in the city. It runs all the way from up past Shaw Airforce Base down to Swan Lake," he explained. "It's the main thing that feeds one of our crown jewel parks in Sumter."

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And protecting more streams throughout the county is next. Collins tells me this is the best time of year to get started.

"We're in October now and this is the perfect time to start thinking about repairing your stream bank if you want to use something like live stakes," Collins said. "We use plants like black willow or elderberry. When the leaves sort of fall off of those trees, that's the perfect time to take cuttings called live stakes, put them in your stream bank, and next spring a whole new shrub will grow from that cutting."

This applies to community spaces like Dillon Park and to personal property with streams.

"Anybody that has a stream or a creek that runs through their property or within their property, the goal is to keep it as natural as possible to kind of keep impacts, human impacts as far away from it as we can," Kelly detailed.

To help protect more stream banks, Collins performs site visits and creates brochures to help residents plant their own buffers. For more information, you can visit https://www.clemson.edu/extension/water/stream-bank-repair.html.

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