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The Buttahatchie River; Adapting Stabilization Techniques to Varying Conditions

Maurer, B., & Ramirez-Avila, J. J. (2012). The Buttahatchie River; Adapting Stabilization Techniques to Varying Conditions. 2012 Alabama Water Resources Conference. Orange Beach, Alabama: AL Water Resources Institute.


The Buttahatchie River watershed is recognized for its ecological significance, given the unique biological diversity found and documented in this system (Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 2005). Mussel surveys by O’Neil et al (2004; 69 FR 40084) and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (2004) documented viable communities of rare mussel species along several reaches of the Buttahatchie River and tributaries. Rare and unique fish communities and species have also been reported from the Buttahatchie River system (Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 2005). In an unpublished survey (Hicks 2004) of 23 biological experts in Mississippi, the Buttahatchie River ranked second behind the Pascagoula River out of 14 rivers in Mississippi in terms of priority for conservation and ecological significance (Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 2005). In recent years the lower reaches of the river have undergone wholesale channel adjustments due to headcutting, channel widening, rapid erosion, quarry capture, and excess sediment. Erosion and excess sediment continue to be a problem in this area. The Stability Analysis of the Buttahatchie River performed by USDA National Sedimentation Laboratory (2005) cited disturbances that included meander cutoffs, construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (including the impoundment of the Columbus pool), and quarry capture. To help mitigate the effects of these disturbances, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has completed one stabilization demonstration project and is in the process of implementing a second project. The Buttahatchie River Stabilization Project was completed by TNC and partners in October, 2010, to demonstrate techniques to reduce pollution within the Buttahatchie River Watershed resulting from eroding river banks. The project was supported by a Section 319 Grant, and used several Best Management Practices (BMPs) designed to demonstrate habitat-oriented options to riverbank stabilization. Located in Lowndes County, Mississippi, the project met several important goals, most notably stabilizing a rapidly eroding river bank and preventing thousands of cubic yards of soil from washing into the river. Ultimately it is expected that the river bed in this area will also stabilize, allowing for improved habitat for fish, aquatic invertebrates, mussels, and other benthic organisms. “Quarry capture” is the process by which the river changes course to flow through an adjacent quarry, and many inactive, pre-regulation quarries are found along the lower 20 km of the main channel. Construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Watershed, of which the Buttahatchie River is a tributary, and the resultant head-cutting, exacerbated the process of quarry capture. With partners from Mississippi State University, and with support from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, TNC is now undertaking the Buttahatchie River Aquatic Habitat Stabilization Project to develop and implement stabilization BMPs to prevent further quarry capture on the Buttahatchie. Utilizing topographic mapping of the area and modeling of flow patterns, this project will identify points vulnerable to quarry capture, and design and construct appropriate stabilization techniques. Techniques are expected to be both specific to the individual characteristics of each site, and exportable to vulnerable channels in other watersheds.

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