November 07, 2023
Susquehanna University is looking to the animal kingdom for innovative solutions to stream management — beaver dams.
“We’ve got a lot of stormwater runoff that comes in at the edge of Susquehanna’s property upstream, and we wanted to better capture that,” Wilson said. “These dams will slow flow down, and because they’re made of sticks and stones, they will let water pass through the middle during a big storm.”
Students, faculty and staff from various local and statewide partners built and installed eight, three-foot dams in a stream that runs between the Freshwater Research Institute and Susquehanna’s solar array. Volunteers collected natural materials, including sticks, small trees and invasive plants such as Bradford pear and honeysuckle, that were woven between wooden stakes to construct the dams.
“We get to be involved with something that directly benefits our ecosystem that we’re living in here at Susquehanna,” said Bryanna Schienholz ’25, an earth & environmental sciences and German studies double major from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, who also has a minor in sustainability management.
Known as beaver dam analogs, the manmade beaver dams are used to slow water flow and trap sediment. The hope is that the dams will help to prevent erosion and the flow of sediment downstream to the Susquehanna River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. A stabilized streambank, Wilson said, should also improve groundwater infiltration and lead the once perennial stream to flow year-round again.
The project is the first of its kind to be permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. If successful, Wilson hopes the dams will become approved restoration structures across the state, opening the door for other conservationists to employ the methods being piloted at Susquehanna.
Deanna Phillips ’23, who interned with DEP this past summer in the permitting department, remarked, “Actually seeing a permit come to life at my own school is really cool.” Phillips is an earth & environmental sciences major from East Earl, Pennsylvania, who also minors in environmental studies and the Honors Program.
Partners on site for the work were the Chesapeake Conservancy, the Merrill W. Linn Land & Waterways Conservancy, the state Department of Environmental Protection and Fish and Boat Commission, and nearby conservation districts.