Dryden to stabilize Lower Fall Creek streambank

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A recent grant has helped to fund a much-needed streambank stabilization project in the town of Dryden that will address the repeated erosion and flooding problems from Lower Fall Creek.

In December, the town of Dryden received a $705,635 Department of Environmental Conservation Water Quality Improvement Program Grant, as part of the over $13.8 million awarded to Tompkins County organizations by New York state’s Regional Economic Development Council.

Dryden plans to implement a streambank stabilization and riparian buffer program along Lower Fall Creek, a major tributary to Cayuga Lake, and the Mineah and Knollwood roads area, which flows into Lower Fall Creek.

“The program will improve water quality by decreasing erosion and runoff that contains sediment and nutrients,” according to the award’s description. “It will also increase resiliency by minimizing flooding.”

Dryden Highway Superintendent Rick Young, who received the grant, said streambank erosion and flooding has been a problem in Dryden for quite some time, making it hard to properly maintain roads. The town has already experienced damage on Lower Creek and Upper Creek roads and have had to stabilize those areas, he said.

“It’s undermining some of my roads,” Young said. “There’s houses up on Knollwood that used to have a 30-foot backyard that are down to 10-foot. … These banks are literally washing out from under the roads. That’s why we’ve had to fix so many spots already.”

Dryden resident Jennifer Karius, Ithaca College professor and the grant’s writer, said the project aligns with the county and state’s focus on water quality, especially in critical waterbodies like Cayuga Lake.

“I wrote the grant both to help Rick and his team get more public money to do projects that will help him do extra things besides maintenance, and I also wrote it … because we desperately need to stop the exponential increase of toxic algal blooms in Cayuga Lake,” she said.

Karius has researched watershed issues for Cayuga Lake in the past and as seen collective issues, like runoff and harmful algal blooms (HAB), that she said need to be addressed properly. Dryden comprises about 12% of the Cayuga Lake watershed, which means the town has a responsibility to help protect the lake and Dryden residents.

“By helping get Rick money for the things he has to do and has been doing already with erosion, we’re actually going to improve the flow and the river practices for the town of Dryden, and that saves public infrastructure and helps refer regional development,” she said.

The town is funding 25% of the project, with the remaining funding covered by the state grant. The project entails a study of the hydrology, or water flow, above Mineah Road, centered around decreasing specific nutrients in the sediments that move with the water.

“The sediment contains nutrients like phosphorus that are causing the HAB to a great degree. It’s one of the targeted nutrients that we want to address minimizing,” Karius said. “We need extra money to do these extra things that will help us all.”

Once the study is complete, Young described the stabilization process to be a systematic one.

“The water, when the streambank gives out, it affects all the way up to the road, where it’s been washing out for several years, so it’s like a sinkhole in the top when you exit the road,” Young said. “We have to stop at the bottom and build it all the way back up to the road, stabilize the road so the road doesn’t collapse.”

Young said that one of the challenges he anticipates with the project is simply getting the equipment to where the work needs to be done. The damage has impacted surrounding areas so much that many areas that need attention will be difficult to reach, he said.

“Some of the stuff is already beginning to sink down on the bank, and other stuff is right behind people’s houses where we can’t get access to,” he said.

“There’s a lot of different variables there we’re going to have to work around.”

Karius said this project shows just how much areas around the lake need to work together to address water quality.

“What we can learn is that all of the municipalities and counties around the lake need to be proactive on this too for us to get a good result,” she said. “And I think it’s important for all the towns in Tompkins to realize that help is out there and expertise is there.”

Karius added that though this project is much overdue and the town is working against nature, she’s optimistic about the future of this project and the beneficial impact for residents.

“They can know their town is being proactive in terms of solving some of the erosion and flooding problems and that they are significant challenges,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the way that this grant and the way it’s written will help Rick, the town of Dryden, and the whole watershed to offset climate-change-driven high impact weather incidents and related infrastructure problems.”

Next steps in the project over the next year depend on how quickly the state allows the town to contract the work.

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