Stream Restoration

What is Stream Restoration?

Stream restoration is a planned management activity that attempts to re-establish the natural functions of a stream system that existed prior to disturbance. Restoration activities include the building of in-stream structures for channel stability, implementing natural stream patterns mimicking reference conditions within a region, providing accessible floodplains for stormwater where sediment and nutrients can naturally deposit, and establishing natural stream-side vegetation. The initial aesthetic impacts for this type of restoration are severe, but a properly designed and implemented project will quickly re-vegetate.

Rock cross vein on the South Saluda River
In-Stream Structures
In-stream structures, such as the rock cross vein above, direct flow to the center of the stream reducing potential streambank erosion. This structure will also provide in-stream habitat to fishes and other aquatic life in the South Saluda River.


Stream restoration is a common practice in the southeastern United States. Little Garvin Creek, located on Clemson University's Simpson Research Farm in Pendleton, South Carolina was restored in 2002. This restoration involved re-establishing a natural stream pattern, installation of in-stream structures, the lowering of the floodplain for connectivity of floodwaters, and stream-side vegetation enhancement. The images below are from this stream restoration project and are a good example of what can be expected for Hunnicutt Creek on the Clemson University campus.

Eroded streambank at Little Garvin Creek, SC
Eroded Streambank
Steep and eroding streambank prior to restoration at Little Garvin Creek, SC.
Straightened stream channel dominated by invasive species in SC
Straightened Channel
Straightened stream channels with Chinese privet dominating the understory at Little Garvin Creek, SC.
Active stream restoration on Little Garvin Creek, SC
Active Restoration
Little Garvin Creek during stream restoration, 2002.
Revegetation after stream restoration in SC
Little Garvin Creek 1-year post restoration, 2003.


Why restore Hunnicutt Creek

Hunnicutt Creek has been historically straightened through farming practices to allow for the cultivation of adjacent lands. Additionally, in the lower portions of Hunnicutt Creek, a berm was constructed to reduce the amount of flooding during storm events. These activities have significantly impaired the natural functions of this system by increasing the channel slope and confining all waters within the existing channel. Restoration of Hunnicutt Creek will reduce in-stream erosive forces by providing floodwater access to the floodplain, and reduce stream channel slope by implementing a natural stream pattern. The construction of in-stream structures will provide flow direction, grade control, and bank protection. Currently, invasive species dominate the understory of this stream system. Removal of these species will allow native plants to reestablish within the Hunnicutt Creek watershed.

Image of stream channel illustrating channel disconnectivity with floodplain
Current Channel Conditions
This image of Hunnicutt Creek illustrates the level of impairment to this waterbody. Stream channel shape is indicated by a red line and the common flood level by the orange line. This channel shape confines all flood waters within the channel. With this perspective, it is easy to see that the stream channel has been straightened for a considerable length and has increased the erosive forces within the channel. All green vegetation in this photo represent many of the  invasive plant species  found within the Hunnicutt Creek watershed.


How does ecosystem restoration benefit Clemson?

In 2006, Clemson University published the Riparian Corridor Master Plan. This plan provides an in-depth analysis of issues facing the Hunnicutt Creek watershed and the unique challenges associated with improvements to this watershed. Conservation, restoration, and stabilization are highlighted in this document as are desired projects that should be sought after to improve the Clemson University campus.

Restoration projects and research focusing on Hunnicutt Creek will provide Clemson University with starting blocks for future projects and provide educational resources not only for students and faculty at Clemson University but local citizens and visitors to the campus. Not only will the restoration of Hunnicutt Creek improve the health of the ecosystem, but it will establish Hunnicutt Creek as an appreciated amenity to the Clemson University campus and the local community!