Apalachicola Slough Restoration

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A look at how Apalachicola Riverkeeper is restoring sloughs- connections between the Apalachicola river and the swamps of its floodplain. These connections were partially cut off by dredging projects decades ago. See more at https://blog.wfsu.org/blog-coastal-health/2021/05/apalachicola-slough-restoration-getting-more-water-to-swamps-bay/

“The head of the East River right ahead of us,” Says Dan Tonsmeire. We’re creeping towards the mouth of the slough, which is mostly hidden behind a fallen willow tree. Dan, the retired Apalachicola Riverkeeper, is shuttling folks to a work site here for a Riverkeeper project.

“The willows and the grass here have built up on this kind of berm,” says Ken Jones, “that has migrated off the side and is starting to close- watch your head.” I duck under a willow branch as we enter the slough. Ken continues- “that’s closing this [slough] off. You can see all the sediment on this sort of plateau.”

The mouth of the East River.  Willows have already narrowed the mouth of the slough, and this fallen tree may accumulate sediment and further close it off.
The mouth of the East River. Willows have already narrowed the mouth of the slough, and a fallen tree may accumulate sediment and further close it off.

Ken’s an engineer managing a slough restoration project with the Riverkeeper. He’s here today to look at the sediment at the mouth of the East River, and for a couple of miles upstream. Other engineers, decades ago, sent river sand onto the muck typically found in places like this. Those Army Corps of Engineers dredging projects have somewhat clogged the mouths of sloughs all along the river, cutting off connections to wetlands. Or, in this case, a major connection between the river and Apalachicola Bay.

Ken is pointing out that here, willows and reeds have taken root in the sediments clogging the opening. Their roots, in turn, gather more sediment around them. Plant roots have always played an important role in building and maintaining land; here, they’re likely extending a manmade mass.

Apalachicola Riverkeeper obtained enough funding to open up three such blockages along the river. They’re not going to come in and start digging right away; first, they need to figure out one thing- what should be the shape of this slough?